Less than a week ago, Liberty Christian fans finally got to see what the coaching staff and players knew the Patriots had all year. Faced with the need for his offense to play a game for the first time all season, quarterback Keegan Bishop and his buddies rose to the challenge.
In Game 10 — a state quarterfinal against visiting 1B Southeast rival DeSales — the Patriots’ starting defense allowed more than 16 points for the first time all year. Two weeks earlier, the Irish had scored just eight points in a 14-8 win by Liberty Christian in a rush to end the regular season.
DeSales scored 50 points against the Patriots in the quarterfinals. But the Irish ended up losing by 34.
“For the first time, it gave the offensive team a chance to spread their wings and fulfill their potential,” said Craig Lukins, Liberty Christian coach. “It was fun to get 84 points.”
Right, 84 points. Most of the first eight Class 1B playoffs and 10 more than the Patriots had fielded against anyone this season. Not that in a year where the starters were on the bench half the time at halftime, the offense defense just watched another 40-point run-clock mercy game that gave the offense much of a chance.
The 10-0 Patriots went to October 21 before winning a game by under 40 points.
“That’s a lot of it,” Lukins said. “We were a lot better on defense than we thought. Two things were really crucial – staying healthy, which we didn’t do last year, and then our defense, whose starters hadn’t dropped more than 16 points (until Saturday) and pitched some shutouts (first three games, actually).”
Things don’t get any easier this Saturday at 1 p.m. when Richland’s Liberty Christian comes over the mountains to face second-placed Neah Bay (10-0) in a state semifinal game at Mount Tahoma High in Tacoma. It’s a Red Devils team that scores just as efficiently as Liberty Christian, only differently.
“I think Neah Bay has thrown 30 passes all season,” said Lukins. “We throw 30 in a game. Hell, we’ll throw 30 in a half if you let us.”
That puts senior quarterback Bishop in the spotlight with every possession. He hasn’t disappointed, throwing for 2,622 yards and 46 touchdowns on 108 of 206 passes this season.
The origins of this season’s success for Bishop and the Patriots lie in the rigors of 2021. Bishop quickly found himself highly motivated to come back after sustaining a severed shoulder and a partially fractured ball socket in his right throwing arm, ending his year.
“It was a disaster of scheduling issues and injuries,” said Lukins.
COVID-19 outbreaks among opponents forced Liberty Christian to scramble to record games against powerhouses Almira-Coulee-Hartline and Odessa in less than two days. ACH, of course, went undefeated in 2021 and won the state title.
Others went under as well, and a team that had won 4-0 in the pandemic-delayed spring season just months earlier suffered a 4-6 season in the fall.
“When I was 100 percent, I got as many guys as I could to go out and throw,” Bishop said.
Not only did it get Bishop back in throwing shape, those off-season training sessions showed him the potential that 2022 held for the team.
“Of course I saw that as an opportunity,” Bishop said. “I’m not sure if everyone was on board at the beginning. And in the first six weeks we didn’t have any so-called super-strong competition. But after that game in the wind (against DeSales), everyone knew we could do it.”
Lukins could see something happening as the season approached.
“We have eight seniors,” Lukins said. “And at least four of them are in the weight room all the time. We have a really great leadership team at the moment. They have helped us weather some of those storms.”
And instead of weakening as Liberty Christian hit the most critical point of the postseason, they’re getting stronger rather than weaker.
“We’re actually getting healthier as the season progresses,” said Lukins. “Not the other way around.”
“We saw it last week,” Bishop said. “We know that we can score as many and more points than the other guys. And our defenses are really good at flying around. We can stop the run and collect points. Now we know the skills are there on both sides of the ball.”
CLASS 1B LIVE BRACKET
Editor’s note: Here’s a game-by-game breakdown, including top individual players, prospects and score predictions, of this weekend’s 2022 WIAA Class 1B soccer semifinals.
NO. 3 LIBERTY CHRISTIAN PATRIOTS (10-0) AT NO. 2 NEAH BAY RED DEVILS (10-0)
Saturday at 1 p.m. at Mount Tahoma Stadium, Tacoma
Statistical Leaders: For Liberty Christian — QB Keegan Bishop (108-206, 2,622 yards, 46 TDs), RB Charlie Branning (58 carries, 747 yards, 14 TDs), WR Drew Ott (30 catches, 869 yards, 16 TDs), LB Addison Lyle (95 tackles, 13 TFL), DE Sam Culver (81 tackles, 21.5 TFL, nine sacks), DB Charlie Branning (six INTs). For Neah Bay — QB Julian Carrick (51 carries, 808 yards, 20 TDs; 16-26, 457 yards, nine TDs), RB Jodell Wimberly (115 carries, 1,500 yards, 21 TDs), WR Adan Ellis (11 catches, 325 yards, six TDs), DL Andre Greene (36 tackles, 21 TFL, three sacks) and DL Julian Carrick (four INTs).
What to look out for: Both teams drove to big quarter-final victories a week ago, scoring a goal with virtually every possession. The Patriots posted a 1B playoff high with 84 points this season, while the Red Devils put 66 points on a talented Wellpinit roster. Maybe don’t expect 150 together this week as those two teams also play a bit of defense but should continue to see multi-faceted running play from Neah Bay and Bishop can throw it for Liberty Christian.
Choose: Freedom Christian, 50-48.
NO. 5 LIBERTY BELL MOUNTAIN LIONS (10-2) AT NO. 1 ODESSA TIGER (10-0)
Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at Lions Field, Moses Lake
Statistical Leaders: For Liberty Bell — QB Riley Lidey (98-136, 1,574 yards, 31 TDs; 66 carries, 608 yards, nine TDs), RB Remy Paz (68 carries, 653 yards, four TDs; 27 catches, 397 yards, 10 TDs) , RB Lucien Paz (83 carries, 613 yards, six TDs), WR Sawyer Crandall (31 catches, 611 yards, 12 TDs), DB Remy Paz (76 tackles, 13 TFL, five INTs) and DB Lucien Paz (72 tackles, seven TFL). For Odessa — QB Collin Martin (36 carries, 288 yards, five TDs; 44-56, 971 yards, 19 TDs), RB Gage Starkel (156 carries, 1,721 yards, 26 TDs; six catches, 213 yards, four TDs); LB Collin Martin (59 tackles, 3.5 TFL); DB Gage Starkel (three INTs).
What to look out for: It will be interesting to see how these teams compare to their Week 1 competition, which was won by the top-seeded and top-ranked Tigers, 42-22. Odessa survived a dangerous affair with Naselle in the quarterfinals with a score of 76:74. The Mountain Lions didn’t have quite as much trouble on the road at Mossyrock, earning a 34-point win. Whether Liberty Bell has improved enough to stay with the Tigers 11 weeks later, that’s the question.
Choose: Odessa, 48-30.