A tale of two titles

December 8, 2009

By Staff

The Liberty senior running back Kevin Ton kneels on the Tacoma Dome turf with teammates after the state 3A championship game loss Bellevue 23-17. By Greg Farrar

The Liberty senior running back Kevin Ton kneels on the Tacoma Dome turf with teammates after the state 3A championship game loss Bellevue 23-17. By Greg Farrar

Liberty falls prey to Bellevue’s juggernaut of a running game

Liberty High School’s football team came within six points of winning its first state championship in 21 years on Dec. 4.

However, the Patriots were unable to close the gap, falling to the rival Bellevue Wolverines 23-17 in the Tacoma Dome.

“Right now, it’s tough to swallow that we lost,” Liberty quarterback Trey Wheeler said after the game.

The Wolverines came out with guns blazing, taking the ball first, marching down the field, converting on two fourth downs and scoring a touchdown. The 80-yard drive took eight minutes and 55 seconds.

Liberty blocked Bellevue’s extra point, holding Bellevue’s lead to 6-0, but Liberty’s offense immediately stalled on its first drive with three-straight incomplete passes.

On Bellevue’s next drive, it marched down the field once again. This time, Liberty was able to stop Bellevue at the 9-yard line, forcing Bellevue to kick a field goal and only increase its lead to 9-0.

On Liberty’s next drive, running back Chandler Jenkins broke a 72-yard touchdown run on the second play. The extra point brought Bellevue’s lead to 9-7.

Bellevue had no trouble marching 78 yards on its next drive for another touchdown, increasing its lead to 16-7 going into halftime.

At halftime, Liberty’s time of possession was only 1 minute and 51 seconds.

The third quarter was dominated by defense on both sides of the ball, and neither team scored. However, Liberty opened the fourth quarter with a 14-yard Jenkins touchdown run, closing Bellevue’s lead to 16-14.

Both teams’ defenses dominated until the clock reached 6 minutes, at which time Bellevue began another successful drive, this time from its own 46-yard line.

The Wolverines converted on yet another fourth down on their way down the field, scoring a touchdown with 2:08 remaining and increasing its lead to 23-14.

Now needing two scores, Liberty hurried down field, beginning from its own 20-yard line and driving down to Bellevue’s 20-yard line before being held to fourth down and five.

Kicker Dean Byron converted the 37-yard field goal, closing Bellevue’s lead to 23-17 with 28 seconds remaining.

Now, with no timeouts left, Liberty attempted an onside kick, but Bellevue recovered the football, securing the Wolverine win.

As Bellevue took a knee and the clock struck zero, there was not a dry eye on the Liberty team. However, Liberty head coach Steve Valach expressed to the members of his team how proud he was of them. He said his team — once again — never gave up.

“All season long, it’s been never stop believing. As long as there’s time on the clock, we’ve got a shot,” he said.

Despite the pain of the loss, Liberty’s players could not deny the great success their team had in 2009.

Lineman Alex Kaiser said the journey was the most fun experience of his life.

“All season, the things we did as a team, as sour as this loss may seem, I think they completely outweigh what happened tonight,” he said.

Jenkins said the success of the season was difficult to appreciate in the wake of the loss, but that the team did have a successful year.

“I’ll look back on it probably next week. I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, we had a good season,’” he said.

Tim Pfarr: 392-6434, ext. 239, or newcas@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

Connor Brandt (2), Skyline senior wide receiver, smiles as he celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown and the Spartans' impending championship victory over Ferris with teammate Kasen Williams. By Greg Farrar

Connor Brandt (2), Skyline senior wide receiver, smiles as he celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown and the Spartans' impending championship victory over Ferris with teammate Kasen Williams. By Greg Farrar

Skyline runs away with third straight state championship

It seemed fitting that as the clock ran down in the final minute of the 2009 Class 4A state championship game, senior quarterback Jake Heaps stepped off the field, allowing his replacement, freshman Max Browne to finish the game under center.

It was an unceremonious passing-of-the-torch, if you will.

Heaps had done his job, throwing four touchdown passes — a new 4A-state-championship-game record — and leading the Spartans to another state title.

“I said, ‘This is your team now. Enjoy the moment. You’re going to be back here,’” Heaps said after the game.

Skyline won its third-straight state football championship after beating Ferris 45-21 at the Tacoma Dome Dec. 5.

Receiver Kasen Williams also set a title-game record after he caught three passes for touchdowns. Heaps finished his high school career 40-2 as a starter.

“These guys are amazing. I love every single moment of it. To be with this special group of guys and to do this three times, it’s unbelievable,” Heaps said. “We just have to approach each game like it’s our last. This truly was our last game. These guys wanted it so bad, you could see it in their eyes.”

Many Skyline players had considered its semifinal battle against Bothell to be the toughest fight of the year, but the Saxons, of Ferris, came out fired up. The team had something to prove after losing to Skyline in the 2008 semifinals.

“We were really excited to get another chance at ‘em. We were real excited when they beat Bothell,” said Ferris senior quarterback Connor Halliday as he met with his family on the field. “It just comes down to, honestly, I hate to say it, but they’re more talented than us.

“We had no running game at all and we couldn’t stop theirs,” he added. “And it’s tough when you’re not stopping the running game, and you’ve got Jake Heaps over there throwing the ball.”

Coming into the game, the Spartans knew Ferris would bring all it had with its big-play passing game.

The Saxons struck first after advancing on a fake punt. They drove the field and went up 7-0 when Halliday hit receiver Jason Bates for a three-yard score five minutes into the first. But Skyline got its bearings and tied it up on a 15-yard Heaps-to-Williams touchdown connection with less than two minutes left in the quarter.

Running back Nick Washburn put the Spartans up 14-7 in the second with a five-yard run.

Ferris made a few big plays throughout the night, but Skyline held in the red zone, allowing just two more touchdowns — Halliday to Bates for 11 yards in the second and to Jordan Tonani for one yard in the fourth.

Halliday finished the game completing 26 of 44 passes for 254 yards and two interceptions.

“Usually, in a high school team, there’s a couple kids on a defense you could pick on. There’s no weak link there,” Halliday said. “We tried to attack the seams. They mixed it up really well, though. It’s tough when they’re getting pressure with their front four and dropping seven, and don’t have to blitz anyone.”

The Spartans defense was a wall that the Saxons couldn’t get through. Ferris had just seven yards on 17 rushes.

“I guess we made it so they had to keep passing, because we just completely shut down the run,” Skyline linebacker Anthony DeMatteo said.

Skyline led 24-14 at halftime and went on to dominate the second half.

Heaps and the Spartan offense seemed unfazed against the Ferris defense. Running back Nick Beauchamp had 115 yards on 18 carries and Washburn had 61 on 12 carries. The team finished with 192 yards on the ground. Heaps completed 15 of 25 passes for 254 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Williams finished with eight catches for 89 yards and three touchdowns, and Connor Brandt had four for 70 yards and a touchdown. Cooper Pelleur had one catch for 66 yards.

Heaps stressed the hard work of his teammates, as well as Skyline’s determination and focus throughout his prep-football career. He’s headed to BYU in 2010 with dozens of accolades, awards and titles, but remains humble about it all.

“All the personal stuff is great, but, you know, it’s all about the team, and I’m just so happy for our guys,” he said. “We’ve worked so hard. They just really deserve it.”

As for achieving one of the most successful high school careers around:

“It’s truly a blessing,” he said.

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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