Oh what a feeling; Buchanan rallies to defeat Liberty
Led by a strong defensive effort, including No. 54 Zackary Studt, Buchanan came from behind to defeat Liberty 19-17, avenging last year’s tough playoff loss. (PHOTO BY AN EYE FOR IT ALL PHOTOGRAPHY)
CLOVIS – The pain of last year’s semi-final playoff loss to Liberty was still ringing in Buchanan’s ears, dreams dashed on their home field in a stunning loss.
However, the 2019 Bears made a statement: not again and certainly not this year.
Buchanan overcame a 10-0 deficit behind a stout defense and two long touchdown plays from third string running back Cade Uehling as Buchanan scored 19 unanswered points in the middle quarters, holding off the Patriots 19-17 in a huge non-league win at Veterans Memorial Stadium to move to 3-1 on the season.
“A little bit different yeah,” Giordano said with a smile referring to this year’s game compared to last. “I can’t say enough of how proud I am of our guys and how hard they fought.”
Last year Liberty, who would eventually lose 58-34 to Central in the D-I title game, stunned No. 2 Buchanan on a last second field goal by sophomore Brayden Blevins in a 24-23 semi-final win.
Once again without the services of star running back Kendall Milton the Bears dug deep, wildly celebrating the win after Liberty quarterback Hayden Mann’s pass fell incomplete on the game’s final play from the 46-yard line.
“It feels great, coming into this game all we were talking about this week was that feeling last season when we came up short,” Buchanan senior offensive and defensive lineman Matt Merritt said. “We all remember that.”
Liberty (3-1) took control early on Dillon Tooker’s 15-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead. But the Bears responded four minutes later with a 4-yard TD pass from junior quarterback D.J. Stevenson to senior Brandon Hernandez to cut the lead to 10-6.
But Buchanan dominated the third quarter, highlighted by Euhling’s 72-yard TD run on its first possession in the second half for a 12-10 lead and a 75-yard catch and run down the right sideline for a 19-10 lead with 4:19 left.
“Cade Euhling fought hard all four quarters,” Giordano said. “He left it all out on the field tonight. That’s all we ask of our guys.”
The Bears were also without running back and starting linebacker Caden Rogers, who rushed for two touchdowns in a 28-14 win over Bullard in Week 2.
In the fourth quarter Liberty’s Prentice Boone cut Buchanan’s lead to 19-17 with a 15-yard TD run at the 11:03 mark. But the Bears’ defense took care of business, stymieing the Patriots offense the rest of the way.
“The key was the trenches – it was a dog-fight all game,” Merritt said. “They are good, physical linemen. We focused on leverage and making sure we finished on their side of the ball.”
Buchanan’s dudes in the trenches were led Merritt, Zack Studt, Cyrus Lo, Okey Egbuzium, Gavin Nelson and Zane Rix. Nicknamed the “Bird Dogs”, they made their presence known early, holding Liberty to a field goal late in the first quarter after a first and goal from the 3-yard line.
There was secondary help as well. With Liberty driving late in the third quarter and down 12-10, Bears defensive back C.J. Jones picked off a pass in the end zone, a play Giordano pointed out as a key factor in the game.
After Uehling’s second TD made the score 19-10, Stevenson, who started at quarterback last year as a sophomore, felt they had the Patriots right where they wanted them.
“We got them, they are tired,” Stevenson said when asked what went through his mind after extending the lead. “The coaches condition us a lot. We knew they were going to fold and they finally did.”
Buchanan travels up north next week to face Cal-Hi Sports’ No. 3 De La Salle.