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Buchanan punches ticket to title game with shutout win over Liberty

Buchanan pummels Liberty 27-0 behind Ian Kirby’s three TD passes and a dominating defense as the Bears look to claim its first Central Section championship since 2000.

Buchanan linebacker Cade Ueling puts a lick on Liberty quarterback Carson Woods in the Bears’ 27-0 shutout of Liberty in the D-I semifinal matchup. Buchanan will face top-seed Central in the Central Section championship game a day after Thanksgiving. (PHOTO BY AN EYE FOR IT ALL PHOTOGRAPHY)

CLOVIS — Buchanan sent a clear and concise message to Liberty from the outset: they weren’t going to ease into the game, they were going to solve it by aggression.

On the first play from scrimmage sophomore Ian Kirby found a wide open Darrien Gaines from the slot position on the left side untouched for an 86-yard score, a play dialed up by offensive coordinator Ross Woods setting the tone on a night that would belong to Buchanan. 

And what a sweet night it was. 

A year after the Bears’ crushing 24-23 defeat in the D-I semifinal at the hands of the Patriots on a last second field goal, Buchanan dominated in all phases of the game in a dominant 27-0 win over Liberty to punch their ticket to the Central Section championship date against nemesis and top-seed Central, a 35-7 winner over Bullard. 

Sophomore quarterback Ian Kirby passed for 303 yards on 11-19 passing and three TDs, two to senior Brandon Hernandez, and a stout Bear defense allowed 183 total yards and created five turnovers to help exact revenge on the Kern County powerhouse.

“I’m very thankful for how hard we played,” Buchanan head coach Matt Giordano said. “These nights you have to leave it all on the field and not have any regrets. They played great tonight.”

In two playoff games after a first round bye second-seeded Buchanan has been a team on a mission, outscoring opponents 70-7, including a 43-7 thrashing of No. 7 Bakersfield a week earlier. 

The win over Liberty sets up a date at Central a day after Thanksgiving as the Bears seek its first Central Section title since 2000 when Giordano was a star player before spending eight years in the NFL. 

Central handed the Bears (10-2) one of their two losses on the season, a 41-20 game Buchanan led 20-7 at one point. In addition, the Grizzlies won its first Central Section title in 2017 when they defeated Buchanan 23-7. 

However, for this group of seniors that include heralded running back Kendall Milton, it’s game on. 

“All the hard work we’ve been putting in all season just for this moment to have another chance to get a ring is amazing,” said Milton, the Georgia commit who broke the Patriots’  back with a 49-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. “We are going into this game one hundred percent.”

The Bears pounced on three Liberty (10-2) fumbles – recording one each by lineman Cyrus Lo and Zane Rix and linebacker Cade Ueling – and had interceptions from Hayden Petersen and nose guard Rix, a play that elicited the biggest Buchanan celebration on the evening. 

In the middle of the third quarter the 6-foot-1 250 pound Rix snatched the ball out of the air after it slipped out of Liberty quarterback Carson Woods hands and rumbled 13 yards upfield before he was tackled. 

“His wheels were spinning so fast but I don’t know how much ground he covered,” Giordano said with a smile. “We are going to give him a hard time tomorrow.”

As for Kirby, calm and cool on a night it dipped to 52 degrees at Veterans Memorial Stadium, he was nearly unflappable, tossing a picture-perfect 42-yard TD pass to Hernandez with 3:22 in the second quarter after Lo’s fumble recovery. 

After leading 13-0 at halftime, Kirby would throw a 10-yard TD pass to Hernandez – who had four catches for 114 yards – with 10:22 left in the third quarter for a 20-0 lead.  

Zane Rix runs upfield after the nose guard picked off a Liberty pass in the third quarter. (PHOTO BY AN EYE FOR IT ALL PHOTOGRAPHY)

The Bears’ defense caused havoc all night for Liberty sophomore quarterback Woods, a J.V. call-up in October filling in for injured junior Hayden Mann. Woods finished the night 4-14 for 34 yards and two interceptions. Prentice Boone rushed for 81 yards on 22 carries and Dylan Tooker, who took over at quarterback in the fourth quarter, ran for 72 on 10 carries. 

On a night the Bears totaled 410 yards of offense, they now have one game remaining for the ultimate goal: a Central Section championship. 

“We are very thankful to be here,” Giordano said. “We’ve gone through a lot of adversity to get here and we have an incredible opportunity in front of us right now.” 

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