No. 1 Bellevue slips past No. 7 Liberty, 23-20
Mitch Johnson's third field goal gave the top-ranked Wolverines a victory in a rematch of last year's Class 3A state-championship game.
Special to The Seattle Times
ISSAQUAH — You could see it on the faces of both teams after Bellevue's 23-20 comeback win over Liberty on Friday. For Bellevue, it was business as usual. For Liberty, it was a missed opportunity.
"They know how to win. That's what they do," Liberty coach Steve Valach said.
The Patriots lost twice to Bellevue last season, including a 23-17 setback in the Class 3A state-title game. This one didn't hurt nearly as badly, but it stung nonetheless.
"Whenever you play these guys, you can make so few errors because you're going to pay for them," Valach said.
Liberty, needing a win and a Juanita loss to earn a share of the KingCo 3A title, jumped to a 14-0 lead before Bellevue scored 20 unanswered points.
The top-ranked Wolverines (8-1, 6-0) grabbed the lead on the opening possession of the second half, driving 80 yards in nine plays. Latrelle Dukes scored from 1 yard out.
Seventh-ranked Liberty (6-3, 5-2) responded with a 12-play, 65-yard drive and a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Trey Wheeler. The Patriots missed the extra point, and Wolverines kicker Mitch Johnson pumped a 23-yarder through the uprights for the winning points with 3:27 remaining.
"I just had to keep a cool head," said Johnson, who also connected on field goals of 35 and 43 yards in the first half. "It was short and I put it through."
Liberty drove into Bellevue territory but went four-and-out from the 32-yard line to end the game.
Wheeler was just 4 of 9 for 65 yards without injured receiver Jake Bainton, while Chandler Jenkins rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown to carry the Patriots.
Bellevue's KingCo title gives it the league's top draw in next week's playoffs. The Wolverines are chasing their eighth state title in 10 years.
"The coaches got us this far, but it's up to the players to finish what we started," said quarterback Kendrick Van Ackeren, who was 7-of-12 passing for 106 yards and also ran for 78 yards and a touchdown.
After a scoreless first quarter, Jenkins broke a 52-yard touchdown run down the right side and Hamilton Noah ripped off a 36-yard score moments later to make it 14-0.
"We got down, but the kids didn't panic," said Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff.