The Patriots used four turnovers to turn back the Bulldogs 21-10, and they will face Hockinson for a spot in the title game.
Thanksgiving is ruined, and Steve Valach couldn’t be happier.
The coach’s fourth-seeded Liberty Patriots defeated No. 12 seed Ellensburg 21-10 on Saturday afternoon in a Class 2A state football quarterfinal. Now, the Patriots have to hold a holiday practice to prepare for top-seeded Hockinson, who they’ll face in a semifinal next Saturday.
“I had plans!” Valach playfully told his team after the win on its own field. “This is so awesome.”
Liberty’s defense and special teams were responsible for extending the season. The Patriots (10-2) had two muffed punts, two interceptions and limited the Bulldogs to 6 of 13 conversions on third down.
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Ellensburg (6-5) still had a chance for a comeback in the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Brady Helgeson threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Dion Hardeman with 5:56 remaining to pull within 11 points.
Patriots senior running back Ryan Kirschner and junior quarterback Sam Brown ran for first downs to keep Ellensburg from getting the ball back.
“It was very tense,” said Brown, who was 6 of 12 for 158 yards, of the fourth quarter. “Every game we go in treating the opponent like it’s a championship team, and we don’t ever give up. We did that today, fought to the very end.”
Ellensburg scored first on a 25-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Elijah Harper.
Brown responded with passes of 39 and 34 yards to set up Liberty’s first touchdown with 2:54 left in the first quarter. Senior Jacob Thoresen ran in the 5-yard score.
Jake Wright ended an Ellensburg scoring threat with an interception. Liberty converted it into a touchdown on a 13-yard run by junior Preston Parker. The play gave the Patriots a 14-3 lead with 8:48 left in the opening half.
Ellensburg turned the ball over on downs in the red zone late in the second quarter after senior Glenn Berg stuffed Hardeman behind the line of scrimmage on fourth down.
“We had our chances,” Ellensburg coach Randy Affholter said. “But the difference in the game is having four turnovers, two muffed punts, two picks, two trips to the red zone and going away empty, and they flipped the field three times. If maybe three of those go our way, it might have been a different game.”
Liberty junior Briar Cameron gave his team a needed cushion with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Patriots sideline went wild in its celebration of the 21-3 lead with 1:40 remaining in the third quarter.
Next week’s semifinal against the defending Class 2A champion Hockinson (11-0) is a rematch of last season’s quarterfinal loss. The Hawks from Vancouver beat Steilacoom 35-28 on Friday night to advance.
“We knew this was going to be a defensive battle, so we came out ready to fight,” Wright said. “Hockinson is another explosive team, so we’ll have to be prepared to ball out again.”