Football: Bellevue beats Liberty 23-17 for state title
By JOEL WILLITS
Bellevue Reporter Former Sports Writer
December 7, 2009 · Updated 8:34 AM
With just over two minutes remaining in the Class 3A state title game, and Bellevue clinging on to a 16-14 lead, the Wolverines came to the sideline on a timeout, facing a fourth-and-three situation on the Liberty 28-yard line.
Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff looked at his offense and asked a simple question: what do you want to run?
The players responded and called for a quarterback sneak, a play the Wolverines hadn't run all year. Quarterback Joe Joe Conner blew forward for three yards for a first down and two plays later, David Nguyen broke loose for a 23-yard touchdown that cemented a 23-17 win over conference rival Liberty for Bellevue's seventh state title in nine years.
"This is what we've worked for," said Bellevue quarterback Joe Joe Conner. "It's so special that I can't even explain it."
Liberty would go on to kick a 37-yard field goal with just 26 seconds remaining to cut the defecit to six points, but John Kanongata'a recoved the ensuing onside kick attempt to seal Bellevue's state title win, their second-straight.
"It's our history," Kanongata'a said, pointing around the field of the Tacoma Dome. "We don't lose here."
The Wolverines used a technique against Liberty that was more than effective: they played keepaway. The Patriots ran only six plays in the first half and Bellevue led 16-7 at the break, Liberty's points coming off of a Chandler Jenkins 72-yard touchdown run on the Patriot's fifth play.
"The first half couldn't have gone any better for us," Goncharoff said. "We let Chandler get one, but other than that, it was great."
Conner gave Bellevue its first points on a nine-yard touchdown run with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter as the Wolverines (12-2) started the game with a 16-play, 80-yard drive. After Bellevue forced Liberty to a three-and-out, the Wolverines again drove the length of the field and Race Sciabica nailed a 26-yard field goal that put Belllevue up 10-0 before Jenkins score.
The Wolverines would answer with a David Nguyen three-yard run with just 26 seconds remaining in the first half. The Patriots (12-2) first-half struggles continued throughout the game - they held the ball for only 13 minutes and 30 seconds - with Bellevue practically forcing them to be perfect on offense.
"We knew Liberty would battle all the way," Goncharoff said. "They're a tough team."
Jenkins would score again on the first play of the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 16-14 before Bellevue took over again, this time grinding out their final drive that included the key fourth-down conversion, the Wolverines fourth successful try on four attempts. The drive, capped off by Nguyen's second touchdown, part of his game-high 105 yards rushing, essentially ended any hopes of a Liberty comeback.
"We have this saying," said Nick Moyer, Bellevue senior tight end and linebacker, "it's called 'foaming at the mouth on fourth down'. It was huge tonight."
Bellevue's defense limited talented Liberty quarterback Trey Wheeler to just 111 yards on 10 of 21 passing. Jenkins led all rushers with 110 yards and two touchdowns on just six attempts in the loss.
The state title comes in a year in which the Wolverines began 1-2, losing to nationally-ranked Katy, Texas and Grant of Sacremento.
"A lot of people, after we started [with two losses], they wrote us off," Goncharoff said. "But we came back, and we got it done."