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Patriots hold off Cougars to move into Sunrise title game

With Liberty clinging to a six-point lead with 39 seconds left in Friday’s Division I Sunrise Region semifinal at Coronado, there was a moment when freshman defensive back Jake Dedeaux feared he had given up the game-winning touchdown to the Cougars.

“I was really nervous at the first part,” Dedeaux said, “because I thought the ball was going to go over my head (to the receiver).”

Instead, Dedeaux leaped in the air at the goal line and batted the would-be winning touchdown pass to the ground, and Liberty escaped with a 33-27 victory.

The Patriots (9-3) will now play for their fifth straight region title when they host Basic next Friday.

Liberty coach Rich Muraco said his secondary has been making clutch plays all season, and Friday against Coronado was no different.

“We have confidence in our kids to play man, and he (Dedeaux) did a great job and went up and made a play and knocked the ball away,” Muraco said. “But our defense has been outstanding almost all year.”

Dedeaux said: “My coaches believed in me. I just had to make it happen for my team.”

That fact that the game down to Dedeaux stopping Coronado’s attempt at a last-minute game-winning score was somewhat stunning, since it appeared Liberty had put the Cougars (7-4) away a few times in the fourth quarter.

First, Calvin Tubbs rumbled 6 yards into the end zone to extend Liberty’s lead to 32-20 with 4:07 left. But Coronado answered with a nine-play drive capped by Spencer Cofer tossing a 7-yard TD pass to Kevin Verboonen to trim the lead to 6 points with 1:53 left.

Then, after Coronado failed on two on-side kick tries – the first of which was discounted after an inadvertent whistle – it appeared the Patriots would be able to run the clock out. But after Ethan Tuilagi rumbled 10 yards on what appeared to be a game-clinching run, he was stripped of the ball and Coronado’s Kainoa Granstrom recovered with 1:34 left.

A Liberty penalty and a 1-yard run put the ball on the Patriots 28, and the Cougars passed into the end zone going for the win three times, with the last one being knocked down by Dedeaux at the goal line on fourth down.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was almost like they were destined to win the way it was falling apart there,” Muraco said. “But we made a great play at the end there. It could have gone either way.”

Kenyon Oblad threw for 149 yards and a score for Liberty. Tuilagi added 98 rushing yards on 16 carries.

Ethan Dedeaux had a 63-yard touchdown reception and a 7-yard TD run for the Patriots in the first half. Liberty outgained Coronado 381-251 for the game.

But Liberty also was hampered by a slew of penalties — 18 accepted penalties for 200 yards — that helped Coronado’s cause each time the Patriots seemed to take control of the game.

Liberty opened the second half with a five-play, 61 yard drive — all runs — capped by Spencer Wilson’s 14-yard touchdown that gave the Patriots the lead, 20-13.

Matt Blumberg also added field goals of 31 and 30 yards in the second half that pushed the lead to 26-13 with 6:34 left in the fourth quarter.

Coronado got back in the game quickly, however, after a penalty set up Tanner Gorski’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Michael Simpson on a halfback option. Gorski took a handoff on a sweep, then threw a strike to Simpson at 15, who took it to the end zone to trim Liberty’s lead to 26-20.

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