Patriots’ drought is over!
December 1, 2009
By Tim Pfarr
Last-second field goal propels Liberty into first state championship game in 21 years
For the third week in a row, the Liberty Patriots found themselves in a heated playoff battle, and for the third week in a row, they came away with the victory.
This time, senior kicker Dean Byron nailed a personal-best 43-yard field goal with one second left to secure the win against the Lakes Lancers 17-14 in the Nov. 27 3A state semifinals in the Tacoma Dome.
Liberty will take on 3A/2A KingCo Conference rival Bellevue in the state championship game at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 in the Tacoma Dome. The Patriots will make their third state title game appearance. Liberty won the 1988 state championship with a 31-0 victory against Cheney. The Patriots lost to Centralia in the 1980 title game.
The semifinal match was a defensive one, and Lakes held Liberty scoreless for three quarters with crucial interceptions and solid defense. Trailing by two scores heading into the fourth quarter, it looked as though Liberty’s playoff run might be coming to an end.However, the Patriots who pulled off late magic against Lindbergh and O’Dea struck again. Liberty opened the fourth quarter by marching down the field and scoring on an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trey Wheeler to wide receiver Jake Bainton. It was then a one-score game with 10 minutes and 38 seconds left in the game.
Liberty’s defense shut down Lakes on the following drive, forcing a punt and giving the Patriots the ball at their own 43-yard line. In an instant, Wheeler connected with Chandler Jenkins for a breakaway 57-yard touchdown reception, tying the game with 8:16 remaining.
Liberty staged another drive shortly after, making it to Lakes’ 9-yard line before being held to fourth down. Lakes’ defense blocked Liberty’s field goal attempt, leaving the game tied.
Lakes marched down the field on its next drive, but an offensive pass interference call set the Lancers back and forced a punt.
Liberty began its final drive at its own 47-yard line and worked its way down the field, reaching Lakes’ 26 yard line with about 1:00 left. As the clock winded down, Wheeler launched a pass to Bainton in the end zone, but it fell incomplete, stopping the clock with just one second left.
Byron and the field goal unit took the field to attempt the win.
“I was just really excited,” Byron said about being called upon to kick the field goal.
Wheeler recalled the anxiety of the moment.
“I said a quick prayer and basically hoped to God that he was going to make the kick,” he said.
After a good snap, Byron rocketed the kick, and the ball sailed through the uprights.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, are you serious?’” Byron said about making the field goal. “I didn’t really know what to think.”
Head coach Steve Valach said the moment was too intense to watch.
“I didn’t even watch it,” he said. “I was watching this one lady. I watched her and all of the sudden she’s going crazy, and I thought, ‘I can’t believe it. He made that field goal.’”
Valach said his team’s intense efforts in the fourth quarter won the game.
“What changed the game is we had some momentum plays on offense, and then our defense just slammed the door out there,” he said.
Liberty now looks ahead to the rematch against Bellevue in the Tacoma Dome.
Bellevue defeated Liberty 27-21 Oct. 23. The heartbreaker marked Liberty’s only loss of the season.
Tim Pfarr: 392-6434, ext. 239, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.