Updated November 22, 2023 - 12:24 am
For a brief moment early in Tuesday night’s Class 5A Division I state championship, Liberty held an advantage over Bishop Gorman.
The Patriots’ defense recovered a fumble deep in Gorman territory on the game’s first drive and kicked a field goal. But with Gorman’s lightning-quick offense, no leads are safe, especially when its special teams help out, too.
Gorman struck on its next drive on an 82-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Micah Alejado to tight end Elija Lofton. Its lead grew after returning a blocked punt for a touchdown on Liberty’s following possession, as the energy generated by a potential upset quickly faded away from the Patriots’ rambunctious support section.
It wouldn’t get any closer, as Gorman, ranked No. 1 nationally by MaxPreps and USA Today, rolled to a 56-11 victory over Liberty to win the 5A Division I title at Allegiant Stadium.
“I’m blessed and lucky to have these guys, these coaches — they put hours in and the time in to get these guys to where they are to put a product on the field that I’m extremely proud of,” Gorman coach Brent Browner said.
It’s Gorman’s 20th football state title, second-most in the state to Pahranagat Valley’s 23. The Gaels have won 13 of the last 14 titles in the state’s top classification, and they are 4-0 against Liberty in state title matchups.
“We’re an exciting game to watch,” Browner said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, either a nail-biter or something like this (against Liberty). It’s an exciting game, and they do a good job. The kids execute, which I’m amazed of high school kids executing at that level.”
Gorman (12-0) is in the driver’s seat to win its fourth national championship after winning three straight from 2014-2016. The final high school football national rankings for MaxPreps and USA Today will not be released until after the middle of December when all states have finished their football seasons.
Though that didn’t stop the Gaels from celebrating.
“We wanted to bring that national championship back, and we did just that,” Alejado said. “It’s great. We’re one of a bunch of great (Gorman) teams. This win is really special, and it’s a blessing to be able to do that.”
Added Browner: “If we had brought back a national championship to Nevada, it’s not just us. It’s everybody. It’s every kid that was playing in Nevada. That’s what I feel. It’s humongous for our state.”
Alejado completed 13 of 16 passes for 250 yards and threw three touchdowns in the first half, and added a rushing score in the fourth quarter. Lofton caught three passes, two for touchdowns, on 131 receiving yards and added a rushing score. Audric Harris added a 27-yard TD catch in the first half.
“Our legacy speaks for itself. You see the track record,” Alejado said of the senior class. “We did everything we said would do. We came in and brought dominance back to Bishop Gorman. Everyone can see that Gorman is back.”
Gorman’s defense held Liberty (10-3) to 72 yards of offense in the first half.
Liberty had life to open the second half as the Patriots drove 64 yards on 11 plays in nearly five minutes, and running back Isaiah Lauofo scored their only touchdown on a 7-yard run. The Patriots converted a 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 27-11.
The Gaels went into their bag of tricks to respond, as Alejado threw a lateral to Lofton, who found a wide-open Derek Meadows in the back corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown.
After a fumble on the kickoff, Lofton added a 1-yard touchdown run and successfully rushed in the 2-point conversion to grow Gorman’s lead to 41-11 late in the third quarter. Alejado added a 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth to trigger the running clock.
“The hardest part was the time off (18 days between the state semifinals and title game),” Browner said. “You don’t want to get too amped up. We were even keel. We practice a lot. We talk all the time, ‘Let’s play good football.’ We’re not trying to do anything else.”
Gorman’s second play from scrimmage was almost a touchdown, but a block in the back negated what would have been a 75-yard touchdown pass. On the next play, Gaels running back Micah Kaapana fumbled, and Liberty recovered at Gorman’s 32-yard line.
Liberty reached the Gorman 5-yard line, but the Gaels stuffed Lauofo on first-and-goal and broke up a pair of quarterback Tyrese Smith’s passes. The Patriots settled for a 23-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Alejado hit Lofton on Gorman’s third play of the ensuing drive to take a 7-3 lead. The advantage grew after Collins Trainor blocked the punt and ran it in for a score.
The rout was on as Gorman’s defense forced a three-and-out on Liberty’s next possession, and Alejado connected with Harris for a TD.
Liberty drove into Gorman territory, but the Gaels tackled Smith for a loss on first down and broke up a pair of passes, including one on fourth down by Keytrin Harris to force a turnover on downs.
Alejado and Lofton connected again on a 38-yard score with just over two minutes left before halftime as Gorman went into the break with a 27-3 lead after a missed extra point.