Liberty junior linebacker Jae Beasley had one thought — and one thought only — when his defense was summoned to protect a two-point lead Friday against Desert Pines with 2:51 to play.
“Stop them. They can’t do anything,” he said. “We can’t let them get a first down.”
Indeed, the Patriots stuffed four consecutive running plays to force a turnover on downs and clinch the Class 5A Mountain League championship with a 16-7 home win over the rival Jaguars.
After the stop, Liberty junior running back Isaiah Lauofo followed with a 51-yard run, then a 1-yard touchdown on the ensuing possession to provide the final margin, triggering a joyous celebration from the hundreds of spectators packing the bleachers behind his sideline.
Lauofo finished with 22 carries for 137 yards, while Liberty’s defense recorded four sacks, a safety and two takeaways.
“Our focus was to get that (championship) banner,” said Beasley, who had two of those sacks. “We didn’t peak right now, but we had a great game on defense.”
The youthful Patriots (6-3, 4-0 Mountain League) were steeled this season by four games against stout out-of-state opponents, dropping three of the four before shifting to league play. They feature 24 seniors but rely on a strong junior class that includes Beasley, Lauofo and safety Ryden-James Dacosin, among others.
Others like quarterback Tyrese Smith and wide receiver Andre Porter, who connected for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 5:40 to play in the first quarter. A botched snap on Desert Pines’ ensuing possession went through the back of the end zone, giving the Patriots a 9-0 lead.
The Jaguars dented the lead late in the second quarter when senior quarterback Marquis Roby broke the pocket to find sophomore wide receiver Izley Manutai for a 13-yard touchdown.
But Desert Pines wouldn’t score again despite its own defensive dominance.
A promising drive early in the fourth quarter was undone in the red zone by a three-play sequence that featured a late hit, fumble and sack. The Jaguars (7-2, 3-1) finished with 184 yards of offense, and their seven points were a season low.
Desert Pines will host Palo Verde on Thursday in the Class 5A playoffs, and Liberty will host Foothill.
“Every year, when you’re in the offseason and you’re planning out your program … you set goals, and one of the first big goals is to win a league championship,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve got a good run going here. But each year is its own team’s challenges.”