The winner of the regular season finale between Liberty and Heritage’s football teams could have reached the North Coast Section playoffs if some other games went the right way, but it ultimately was not to be. The 2021 Brentwood Bowl on Nov. 5 was for city bragging rights.
For a fifth straight season, those bragging rights belong to the Lions. Playing in his final game for Liberty, senior running back Deovion Hill carried the ball 24 times for 164 yards and scored all four of his team’s touchdowns as the Lions defeated the Patriots 28-14.
“The team played great,” Liberty coach Matt Hoefs said. “I thought we had a good game plan on both sides of the ball and they executed it well. I feel great.”
The critical sequence in the game came in the second quarter. With the score tied at 7, Lions senior defensive back Khiron Green not only intercepted a pass but returned it 43 yards, deep into Heritage territory. That set up Hill, who scored on a 6-yard touchdown run three plays later.
Then, following a three-and-out and a Patriots punt, Liberty got the ball just short of midfield. Lions junior quarterback Nate Bell completed all three of his passes on the ensuing drive for 38 yards while Hill ran for the remaining 19. That included a 16-yard touchdown run to give Liberty a 21-7 halftime lead.
Green helped Hill score another touchdown down later in the game with a 66-yard reception. While he was brought down short of the goal line, Hill punched the ball in from three yards out on the next play to open up a 28-7 lead.
Heritage responded with a 19-yard touchdown pass from junior Jacob Wasso to senior Jayden Ennis to cut the margin to 28-14 going into the fourth quarter but the game would get no closer. The next Patriots possession came to an end when Lions senior linebacker Dominic Bustos intercepted a pass. Liberty picked up three first downs on its next possession, which was enough to run the remainder of the clock out.
“We played pretty great -- we came in and hit them in the mouth,” said Olugbenga Komolafe, a senior lineman for the Lions. “I don’t think they had any time where they felt they were going to win. We gave it to them in the mouth, we established all throughout the game and we finished it off.”
Bell was 10-for-15 for 153 passing yards with one interception. Green was his team’s leading receiver. He only caught two passes but those went for 94 yards. Junior Deuce Carr hauled in a team-leading three passes for Liberty. In addition to their interceptions, Green and Bustos both had eight tackles, one shy of the team lead, shared by senior linebacker Colin Borrelli and junior linebacker Ty Ternes.
Wasso also passed for 153 yards, going 15-for-28 with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also scored his team’s first touchdown as a receiver on a 5-yard pass from junior running back Devon Rivers. Rivers ran for 61 yards on 20 carries while junior Jeremiah Ruffin hauled in a game-high eight receptions for 93 yards.
“I think we gave it our all,” said safety Tanner Smylie, who thwarted a Liberty scoring drive with a third-quarter interception.” We could have done a little better but we pushed together as a team. That’s what we do.”
Both teams finished the season at 5-5 overall. With a 3-2 record, the Lions finished third in the Bay Valley Athletic League while the Patriots were fourth at 2-3.
Friday’s game also marked the end of what’s been a busy two seasons for everyone. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the season that normally would have been played in the fall of 2020 was played in the spring of 2021. That left little turnaround between the end of that season in mid April, summer practices and eventually the beginning of the true 2021 season in late August.
The juniors and underclassmen will now have a break from football. For the seniors, Friday’s game marked an end to what was a frenetic final two seasons of high school football.
“I’ll remember it as a family -- it’s literally my family,” Smylie said. “I’m excited to come to football, to practice every day. I just love my team. I’ll do anything for them. We’re Patriots for life. We really changed this program around. I feel that Heritage is going to keep getting better. We’re putting in the work. We have fantastic coaches and the thing is, with our team, we all believe in each other, which helps us grow.”
That opinion was shared by his opponents from Liberty.
“I want them to remember everything we built up in this community,” Hill said, when asked how he wants this team to be remembered. “I’m going to miss this.”
“We fought through adversity -- a lot of adversity,” Komolafe said. “We had our up moments. We had our down moments. But we fought hard. We always came together when it mattered. I want people to think of this as the team that fought hard together. It was a great season playing with my brothers.”