Two of the top-four teams in the KingCo 3A division faced off at Renton Memorial Stadium on Oct. 21, where the Patriots of Liberty High School outlasted the Hazen Highlanders with a score of 30-14.
Liberty remains inside the top 25 in the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) rankings, and Hazen stays on the outside looking in.
Patriots Head Coach Steve Valach was very proud of his team got overcoming an array of unfortunate circumstances.
“We have not only not played in the rain all year, and we have been indoors for the past three days because of the smoke,” he said.
Valach continued: “Ever since this group were freshmen they have overcome obstacles. Their first year, COVID hit. We say this group does a good job of hitting the curveball.”
With the defeat of Hazen, Liberty has now won five games in a row. With one game remaining in the regular season, Valach is focused on the task at hand.
“The mentality is one week at a time. You got this week’s game and you got this practice,” he said. “When you practice well, you play well.”
Liberty was led by their 6’ 3” junior quarterback Rohne Klein, who weathered the rain and the cold to get the victory over the Highlanders. Klein is also one of the rare players who plays both sides of the football at an extremely high level. He’s not only the quarterback — he plays middle linebacker as well for the Patriots.
“He’s such a stud,” Coach Valach said about his dual-threat weapon.
To begin the scoring in the contest, Klein threw a six-yard touchdown pass to junior Jaxson Thoreson. It was an impressive catch in the back corner of the end zone, in the pouring rain with a defender draped over him. Regardless of circumstances, Thoreson came down with the catch, putting Liberty on top, 7-0.
After both teams swapped possessions back and forth, Hazen got deep into Patriot territory with a 39-yard run from senior Junior Parada. Parada’s number was called once again, punching the football into the end zone from a yard out, evening the score at 7-7.
The Hazen defense was able to do a good job against this Patriot offense, but the Highlander offense kept giving Liberty chances. An interception by Patriot senior Nathan Dehnert gave the ball back to his offense, which cashed in with a 25-yard field goal. The next interception was snatched out of the air by Klein, and he returned the ball inside the five yard line of Hazen. But after a penalty, Liberty was forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal. At the half, Liberty was up, 13-7.
The first possession of the second half for Hazen was similar to how they ended the first half. An interception by Thoresen, who scored a touchdown earlier, got the ball back for the Patriots. Liberty would once again take the points and kick the field goal, creating a two-score gap 16-7, ending the third quarter.
In the fourth, Hazen got back on the scoreboard again. A 65-yard drive led by their senior quarterback Mahkai Whitney, who kept the ball and ran 75% of the plays, got inside the one yard line. Once more, Parada got into the end zone, and with the extra point, Hazen cut Liberty’s lead to two points 16-14.
Liberty instantly responded to the Highlanders’ touchdown with one of their own. A 19-yard touchdown from Klein to Dehnert put Hazen in panic mode. With 3:50 left in the game, Liberty was up on the scoreboard 23-14.
The biggest swing in momentum would occur on the ensuing kickoff, when a shorter than normal kick bounced to the returner. He assumed the ball was going out of bounds, but it did not. It stayed in bounds and Liberty recovered the ball inside the Hazen 20 yard line. The Patriots ran the majority of time off the clock, and scored on an additional touchdown run from junior Eli Shafer. Hazen, in the waning seconds of the game, couldn’t get back on the scoreboard.
The KingCo standings remained the same after this matchup, but Liberty dropped from 19 to 24 in the RPI ratings. Liberty’s final regular season game hosts Lake Washington High School, who is in second place in KingCo, right in front of the Patriots. For Hazen, their final game is at Bellevue High School. A win there would certainly help Hazen’s chance at making the postseason. They need to be inside the top 32 teams, and they are currently #40.