The clue came a week ago when Liberty High of Bakersfield crushed Bullard 41-7 in the Central Section semifinals.
Or was it that 44-21 dominance of Bakersfield a month ago?
Or the 49-0, 45-9, 42-7, 49-17 and 27-6 routs of Centennial, Garces, Stockdale, Frontier and Buchanan preceding that?
Or maybe, just maybe, the first signal of excellence actually came in defeat – 21-14 on the road to top-seeded Edison a year ago in the D-I championship at Sunnyside Stadium, knowing that the Patriots returned multiple stars from that team?
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This is known for certain: Liberty punished top-seeded Clovis 56-21 Friday night at Lamonica Stadium for the latest D-I title, and there was absolutely nothing fluky about it.
“God is good,” was the first thing Liberty coach Bryan Nixon told the Patriots afterward at midfield. “God is good.”
Yeah and sure as heck your team is, too.
8 Consecutive games won by Liberty
The ways could be counted before a crowd of 7,000 against the 11-2 Cougars:
▪ Utah State-bound quarterback Jordan Love threw retreating, threw on the run, threw across his body and completed his final nine attempts while passing for 294 yards and three touchdowns. By the way, he also rushed for 64 yards and a score.
▪ Johnny Balderas, a blazer, caught five passes for 100 yards and two scores and intercepted a pass – one of three total for the 1-3 Southwest Yosemite League champion off Clovis senior Sean Kuenzinger, who had but six in 278 attempts coming in. He did pass for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
▪ And then for the Patriots’ special teams, which were truly special.
Matt Hubble, racing untouched behind a textbook wall of blockers down the right sideline, returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown that tied it 7-7 midway through the first quarter.
And Liberty’s kickoff cover unit stuck Clovis on its 18, 19, 25, 15, 18 and 13 on the Cougars’ first six returns.
Simply, Clovis was exposed in every department to close a season in which it often showed vulnerability, despite its record.
I thought coming in we needed to be even on special teams, but we got destroyed, no doubt about it.
Clovis coach Rich Hammond
“I thought coming in we needed to be even on special teams, but we got destroyed, no doubt about it,” said Clovis coach Rich Hammond, who was trying to deliver the program’s ninth section top-division title, and first in 13 years.
Conversely, it was the first D-I championship for Liberty, which opened in 1999. The Patriots arrived with one section crown – D-III in 2001.
They also arrived loaded with talent so deep that they turned this one into a stunning running-clock show. That California Interscholastic Federation rule is enforced when a team leads by 35 points or more in the fourth quarter.
And Liberty did this with UCLA coach Jim Mora observing from the Patriots’ sideline a linebacker committed to the Bruins, Krys Barnes.
Barnes actually was not a big factor.
This was The Love Story.
Liberty QB Jordan Love hit 13 of 17 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
“The scoreboard does not surprise us,” the quarterback said. “We knew exactly what they were going to do and we took control of that.”
Nixon had been 0-4 in section finals at Centennial (0-3) and Liberty (0-1), but not to sweat in this one that kicked off at 50 degrees.
“We’re pretty well rounded,” he said. “We’re solid in a lot of phases of the game. Best thing is, I like our kids’ preparation. That makes them stand out from other teams I’ve had.”
Clovis wide receiver JJ Wills feared that during the week while studying film.
“They’re a very good, fundamental team that put everything together,” he said in his final prep game before moving on to Idaho. “It was obvious, looking at film, they were mentally and physically prepared. I applaud them.”