All season long, the Liberty Christian Patriots used a stifling defense to dominate other teams and go 12-0.
But that defense had never seen Neah Bay’s rushing game until Saturday night in the Tacoma Dome.
The Red Devils defended their state 1B championship, beating the Patriots 56-38.
“They were really good,” said LC coach Mike Olson. “We knew they’d be really good.”
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Two Neah Bay running backs — Cole Svec and Chris Martinez — did most of the damage. Svec rushed for 159 yards and scored a touchdown on an 88-yard kickoff return.
Martinez found the end zone four times and rushed for 133 yards.
The key, though, may have been a Neah Bay defensive play.
With the Patriots trailing 22-18 and in the Red Zone, LC quarterback John Lesser tried to run to his left and into a bunch of bodies.
All of a sudden, Neah Bay’s John Reamer came out of the scrum with the football, and he raced 91 yards for a touchdown and a 30-18 lead.
“It would have been a tie game had we scored,” said Lesser, who led the Patriots with 146 yards rushing and 212 passing. “There is no excuse. I kind of ran into him. I was hoping they’d call me down. And he ripped the ball out.”
The Patriots spent the rest of the game playing catchup, but they couldn’t get there because the Red Devils rushing game was just too strong.
“We just couldn’t stop their run on defense,” said LC defensive end Robby Heimann. “They had a fantastic running game. They had a number of guys who could run. They had really good blockers.”
Touchdown runs by Lesser and Cody Daniels kept the Patriots close, within four points at 36-32 late in the third quarter. Daniels’ 4-yard run with 1:25 left in the third quarter made it close.
But LC’s kickoff team decided to kick deep to Svec, and he returned in 88 yards for a TD to give the Red Devils a cushion.
It was a bad final minute for the Patriots, because Lesser followed that by throwing an interception.
And when freshman quarterback Rwehabura Munyagi hit Cameron Buzzell on a 28-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter, Neah Bay had an insurmountable 50-32 lead.
“We never felt we were down until that fourth quarter,” said Daniels, who finished with 143 yards rushing and three TDs.
Both teams traded leads four times in the first half.
Daniel’s first TD run of 4 yards gave the Patriots their first lead at 12-8 in the second quarter.
But Martinez’s second TD run of the night (this one from 16) gave the Red Devils the lead back at 16-12.
Lesser would score from the 2 on the next series, with LC now ahead 18-16.
And Martinez scored again on a 4-yarder to give Neah Bay the halftime lead 22-18.
It hurt LC that it couldn’t convert any 2-point conversions in the first half.
“We needed to step up and we didn’t then,” said Daniels.
Mitch Godwin led LC with nine pass receptions for 157 yards, and on defense he was the leading tackler with 11. Lesser added nine tackles.
It was a great season for Liberty Christian, which finished 12-1.
“A 12-win season, that’s fantastic for anyone,” said Heimann. “Second place is not that bad.”
Lesser, a junior, will miss this group of seniors.
“It was a really good season,” he said. “We had some great leadership from the seniors. I love these guys on this team.”
NB — Chris Martinez 3 run (Cole Svec run)
LC — John Lesser 2 run (run failed)
LC — Cody Daniels 4 run (pass failed)
NB — Martinez 16 run (Svec run)
LC — Lesser 2 run (pass failed)
NB — Martinez 4 run (pass failed)
NB — John Reimer 93 fumble return (Svec run)
LC — Lesser 7 run (pass failed)
NB — Michael McGee 2 run (pass failed)
LC — Daniels 4 run (Mitch Godwin pass from Lesser)
NB — Svec 89 kickoff return (Martinez run)
NB — Cameron Buzzell 28 pass from Rwehabura Munyagi (pass failed)
LC — Daniels 23 run (run failed)
NB — Martinez 6 run (run failed)
RUSHING — NB, Svec 21-159, Martinez 18-133, Munyagi 5-10, Buzzell 2-9. LC, Lesser 27-146, Daniels 12-143, Robby Heimann 1-8, Godwin 2-7.
PASSING — NB, Munyagi 1-2-0-28, Svec 0-1-0-0. LC, Lesser 12-26-3-212.
RECEIVING — NB, Buzzell 1-28. LC, Godwin 9-157, Heimann 1-49, Daniels 2-6.
FIRST DOWNS — NB 18, LC 25. FUMBLES/LOST — NB 4-3, LC 4-2 . PENALTIES-YARDS — NB 8-91, LC 6-54.