For two wins, Liberty’s and Lindbergh’s first games of the football season couldn’t have been much different.
The Patriots dominated Ballard 38-0, putting the game away in the second quarter.
The Eagles struggled against an inferior Highline team, holding on for a 15-12 win.
In many ways, that’s how it was supposed to be. Lindbergh had to replace a multiyear starter and school record holder at quarterback in Jacob Allie. Liberty welcomed back a glut of talent on both sides of the ball.
But as different as these teams looked in early September, they are in the same place in late November: the 3A state tournament quarterfinals.
When the Eagles and Patriots meet Friday night at Liberty’s home field at 7 p.m., it will be two different teams that took two different paths to reach the same place. And only one will move on.
The Patriots looked steady throughout the year with their only loss being a 27-21 contest against Bellevue Oct. 23. They are 10-1 and finished second in the KingCo 3A/2A. Bellevue was first.
Liberty has had two difficult draws in the playoffs, first traveling to Camas and then facing O’Dea. Both teams were ranked among the state’s best 3A squads for most of the season.
Lindbergh coach Pat O’Grady on Liberty
“They are big, strong and very well coached,” O’Grady said. “This is the most athletic team we’ve faced all year… They are capable of putting up a lot of points in a short period of time. We’re going to have to be at our best.”
Liberty averaged over 37 points per game this year and has playmakers all over on offense.
The most important thing for Lindbergh on defense will be to make the play if it takes the risk of blitzing. Because the Eagles held an athletic advantage in most games this year, Latral Smith, Isiah Corwin, Diondre Toms, Bakari Davis and others could make up ground on plays where the blitz missed.
If the Eagles blitz and don’t make the sack or tackle, Liberty has the athletes to make them pay.
O’Grady also knows that if the Eagles do build a lead, they can’t let up at all.
“They play hard for four quarters,” he said. “We saw that last week.”
The Patriots trailed O’Dea by 18 points late in the game in the first round of the state playoffs but came back to win.
The Eagles shook a slow start to finish the regular season 8-1 and win the Seamount title.
Once in the playoffs, the Eagles tossed aside thoughts that their record was the result of a weak league schedule by dominating two playoff opponents by a combined 96-27.
Now 10-1, Lindbergh has outscored its past four opponents 178-29.
Liberty coach Steve Valach on Lindbergh
“They have pretty incredible team speed,” Valach said. “Frank Cange is as fast as any football player you’re ever going to play against… A lot of their scoring is a short pass or run that turns into a 50-, 60-, 70-yard touchdown.”
Liberty will focus on making “million-dollar tackles” against the Eagles’ playmakers. Valach said the Liberty staff tells the players to tackle with the mindset that someone will give them a million dollars if they make every tackle.
“It’s about not going for the big hit,” he explained. “You wrap up and hang on until other guys come to help.”
The Patriots’ biggest challenge is to avoid explosive offensive plays from Lindbergh that can change the game’s momentum.
Valach said Lindbergh’s demolition of Ferndale’s defense opened the Patriots’ eyes even more to the Eagles’ potential.
“That got our attention big-time,” he said.
Ferndale allowed an average of 13.9 points per game this season until it met Lindbergh in the first round of the state playoffs, where the Eagles scored 52.
How much stock goes into the Juanita game?
Both teams played Juanita this season, with very different results.
The Rebels swept past Lindbergh easily Sept. 25, led 39-3 at the half and won 46-10.
Liberty went up 21-0 on Juanita in the first half and hung on to win 28-21.
As contradictory as it sounds, that loss (Lindbergh’s only loss of the season) may have helped the Eagles get to where they are now.
“In a strange way that was a turning point for our kids,” O’Grady said. “That beating really kind of galvanized us as a unit. Having to experience that humbling really brought us together as a team as opposed to being a bunch of great athletes.”
On the other side, Valach doesn’t put much stock in the result of the Lindbergh/Juanita game as a predictor for Friday night.
“Lindbergh’s really gelled as a team since then,” he said. “We take that with a grain of salt. It was two months ago and they don’t look like the same football team to me.”
Quotes of note:
- “Early on we were kind of in disarray… We’ve really gotten better. Our kids have just played with a lot of heart and a lot of character. They’re very deserving of what they’re getting right now.” – Pat O’Grady
- “There were things that had to come into place, but especially with some of the success we had in out-of-season stuff, I think we expected to be here.” – Steve Valach
Facts to know:
- Lindbergh wasn’t able to start the same offensive line two weeks in a row until the Hazen/Mount Rainier games in early October.
- Liberty has played five straight games against state playoff teams (2A Interlake, Bellevue, Mount Si, Camas and O’Dea).
Questions of the game:
- Can Liberty’s million-dollar tackles contain Frank Cange and the Lindbergh playmakers, or will short plays turn into long touchdowns like they have for the Eagles all season?
- Can Lindbergh’s aggressive defense back up the Patriots, or will the Eagles blitz themselves out of the play and allow Liberty’s group of athletes to find the end zone?
Check the Prep Sports Blog later this week for a game prediction