Buchanan vs. Liberty: Preview and Series History
Austin Kemp makes a case for each team as the two rivals, separated by 117 miles, will face off for a shot at a Central Section title.
No. 2 Buchanan will host No. 3 Liberty on Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium for the second straight year in the semifinals. The Bears beat the Patriots 19-17 at home earlier this season. This is the fifth time in three years that these two programs will meet and the winner will have a date in the Valley Championship.
Buchanan will win because …
1.) …they have the best player in the Central Section in Kendall Milton. Not only is he talented, but the University of Georgia commit is fresh and healthy. He has just 16 carries in the last three weeks (2 blowouts and a bye) combined and is averaging just under 10 YPC for the season. Of note: Milton missed the Bears’ 19-17 win over Liberty in Week 4 due to injury paving the way for backup RB Cade Uehling to have a huge nigh. It would be a safe bet to expect Milton to have a very productive night this Friday night. Milton talked this past summer about the pursuit of winning a valley championship and the senior is just two wins away from helping the Bears take home a Valley Championship.
2.) …their revamped passing game. Liberty will not be able to stack the box like they have done the last several years versus the Bears. Will they try it? I’m sure they will. Taking away Milton is probably the route you have to take. However, QB Ian Kirby has the arm and decision making to make the Patriots pay if their corners and safeties are on an island all night. Kirby has moved to 5-0 as a starter and his only interception came in his first game action against Central—when he was thrust into the contest mid-game for his first varsity experience.
3.) …there is a big Patriot uncertainty coming into this semifinal matchup: starting QB Haden Mann missed last week’s playoff game vs. Clovis West with knee bursitis, according to Bakersfield.com. Sophomore QB Carson Woods is next in line at quarterback for the Patriots and this would be his second varsity game overall and first varsity road game of his career. Woods was playing JV football three weeks ago. Liberty scored 17 points the first time around with Mann in the lineup. Without him? It could be tough sledding.
Liberty will win because…
1.) …head coach Bryan Nixon is one of the best in the section. Since he’s taken over at Liberty, Nixon is 19-7 vs TRAC schools and was able to beat Buchanan in the same scenario of the playoffs a season ago. Liberty will be prepared with an athletic group of players who play the game hard. Nixon has proven he can push the right buttons come playoff time and will have a game plan that should keep the game close. This is the fourth-straight semifinal Nixon has led the Patriots to.
2.) …wide receiver Ramon Henderson and do-it-all guy Dylan Tooker are two of the best athletes left in the playoffs. Henderson is a tough matchup for any defensive back and doesn’t need much room to create a big play. The 6’2 wide out has received offers from Notre Dame, Tennessee, UCLA, and Oklahoma—among others. While Tooker doesn’t have the offer list of Henderson, he’s a playmaker in his own right. Tooker has lined up at RB, WR, and even QB at various points this year and also can play any position on defense. If Liberty wins on Friday night, it’ll be because these kids produced big for the Pats. I’m thinking Henderson or Tooker need to come up with at least one special teams score.
3.) …running back Prentice Boone proved to be 100% healthy and found success. Boone missed the regular season finale vs. Bakersfield, but was back in the lineup last week coming off the bye. Boone, who’s been a focal point of Liberty’s offense this year, was limited to 15 carries for just 39 yards in his return. In fact, Liberty rushed 31 times overall for 114 yards in the quarterfinal matchup vs. Clovis West. A very modest 3.7 YPC will not get it done vs. Buchanan. Boone must be ready to go and, more importantly, his offensive line needs to control the line of scrimmage to pick up consistent chunks of yardage on the ground.
Series history (playoff games listed second): Liberty leads all-time series 10-4
2019: Buchanan 19-17
2018: Buchanan 28-13, Liberty 24-23
2017: Buchanan 28-24
2016: Liberty 35-14
2015: Liberty 27-6
2014: Liberty 48-20
2013: Liberty 38-6
2012: Liberty 42-21, Liberty 28-3
2011: Liberty 13-3
2010: Buchanan 23-17 (OT)
2005: Liberty 28-16
2004: Liberty 52-20