The Liberty Lions varsity football team got three rushing touchdowns from Tai Tai Canady and a dominant performance from its run defense en route to a 35-14 victory over the visiting Chico Panthers last Friday.
The Lions improved 2-0 on the season with a quick start against the Panthers, scoring on their first possession of the game. Liberty did not attempt a single pass on their first drive, using six consecutive running plays to reach the end zone, highlighted by a 36-yard sweep around the right side by Willie Williams and a 2-yard scoring run by Canady. Liberty increased its advantage to two touchdowns when Joseph Tolentino scored from 15 yards out on the ensuing possession, giving the Lions a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
Chico closed the gap to 14-7 early in the second period when quarterback Clayton Welch connected with Hunter Mootz for a 37-yard reception, but the Lions were able to respond and increase the lead once again. Tolentino found Alex Hull wide open down the middle of the defense for a 57-yard reception, and Canady punched in his second score of the night from three yards out. The Panthers moved into scoring territory late in the first half following a 45-yard punt return by Shawn Ray, but a Riley Condon interception ended the threat and preserved a 21-7 halftime lead for the Lions.
“Our kids did a great job answering each of their scores,” stated head coach Jeff Walters, referring to Liberty’s ability to seemingly maintain a comfortable lead most of the night. “I felt like we were really controlling the tempo offensively and that our defense was in the right aggressive mindset.”
Chico started the second half with a bang, as Welch once again found an open Panther receiver behind the Lions’ secondary, connecting with Grant Adams for a 60-yard scoring strike. Liberty refused to be fazed and responded midway through the third quarter when Canady scored for the third time – this time from four yards out. Defensive tackle Christian Garcia recovered a Chico fumble on the next possession, and Tolentino quickly found senior receiver Anthony Leslie on a fade route in the back corner of the end zone to make the score 35-14.
“We did have a few blown coverages, but we were playing aggressive, so that’s a risk you take,” said Walters, referring to the long touchdown passes against the Lions. “It’s a team game, though, so our offense was able to pick the defense up when there was a breakdown, and the defense then responded by giving us a short field.”
The Liberty defense played an aggressive game-plan, utilizing all-league safety Kyle Trego as an extra defender in the box, resulting in a shutdown run defense and an opportunistic pass rush. Dylan Gilfoy had a pair of sacks for the Lions, while Jack Ray also got to Welch. Trego, meanwhile, seemed to affect nearly every play the Panthers tried to run, whether as an extra linebacker against the run, or by creating extra pressure on Welch’s pass attempts.
The Lions have their Homecoming game this Friday, Sept. 12, against visiting Berkeley High School. Berkeley fell on the road to Monte Vista last Friday 44-20.
In lower-level action, the Liberty freshmen improved 1-0-1 as they went on the road to defeat Chico, 8-0. The junior varsity fell to the Panthers, 20-13, to drop its record to 1-1.