Liberty rolls over Cal High in NCS playoffs

Photo by Ken Boone

Liberty running back Darrion Bartley tries to elude a California defender during the Lions’ 50-18 win last week. Bell finished the game with 18 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Ever since the Liberty High School football team lost in overtime to Pittsburg earlier this season, the Lions have been eyeing a shot at redemption.

One win away from that opportunity last week against Cal High in the opening round of the North Coast Section (NCS) Division I playoffs, Liberty wasn’t going to be denied. The third seed Lions rolled to a 50-18 win over the sixth seed Grizzlies, setting up a rematch with the Pirates — the only team to beat Liberty this season — on Nov. 23.

“It was a definite team win,” said Liberty head coach Ryan Partridge. “You can shout out a bunch of different names, guys who made plays. It was a fun game to watch, and fun game to coach, too.”

The one-two punch of running backs Brenden Bell and Darrion Bartley rushed for a combined 288 yards and three touchdowns, and star quarterback Jay Butterfield completed 14 of 22 passes for 253 yards and three scores, as Liberty defeated Cal High for the first time in school history.

“We came out hot from the start,” Butterfield said. “The offense came out hot; the defense came out hot. We started strong and finished strong.”

The Lions (10-1, 4-1 in league play) now turn their attention to second seed Pittsburg (10-1, 5-0) just over a month after the Pirates pulled out a 24-21 overtime win over Liberty.

Pittsburg dismantled seventh seed James Logan High, 41-0, in its opening-round game, to set up the rematch.

“That’s going to be fun,” Partridge said, minutes after the Lions win over Cal High.

The Lions built a 28-3 lead over Cal High (7-4, 2-3 in the East Bay Athletic League) on Jermaine Land’s 8-yard catch and run on the opening, third-quarter drive, and largely never looked back.

Fellow receivers, senior Cody Muth and juniors Beau Dionio and Leo Reichhold, were also huge for Liberty, with key receiver Justice Jackson out for the year with an undisclosed ailment.

The trio combined for nine catches for 142 yards, with Muth and Dionio each registering a touchdown. Land’s one catch accounted for the Lions’ third receiving score of the contest.

Liberty linebacker Mason Padilla led the Lions’ stout defensive effort, returning an early fourth-quarter interception 51 yards, to put the Lions up 42-10, and about two game minutes later, recovering a Cal fumble.

He and fellow linebacker Anthony Orgoglio each tallied a team-leading seven tackles in the game, and star defensive lineman Payton Zdroik checked in with five tackles and two of the team’s three sacks. Orgoglio also registered a sack for the Lions.

“Coach Reel put a game plan together for us on defense, and we came out here and executed,” Padilla said.

After the win, all eyes were looking ahead to the rematch with Pittsburg.

Liberty’s loss to Pittsburg in mid-October was the team’s first since December last year, to De La Salle in the NCS title game, and its first regular-season defeat since October 2017, also to Pittsburg.

Like the Lions, the Pirates enter with only one loss — to Serra High — this season.

“We know what happened last time and we don’t want to feel that way again,” Butterfield said.

The Lions’ clash with Pittsburg is slated for Friday, Nov. 23, 7 p.m., at Pittsburg High School.