At halftime of last week’s Liberty-Arbor View football game, word in the press box began to circulate that Desert Pines was trailing Bishop Gorman only 14-3 at halftime in the other Class 5A Southern Region semifinal.
Nobody would say it, but you could tell what those clad in Liberty’s red, white and navy blue were thinking: Maybe there might be a chance for us against Gorman, too.
There were fewer scoring updates in the second half of a game the Gaels wound up winning 41-3.
“I’ve never gotten more compliments for scoring three points,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said about hanging tough for a half against the mighty Gaels.
Gorman had outscored its six city opponents 400-0 before the Jaguars marched to the Gorman 1-yard line the first time they possessed the ball. Three attempts to punch it into the end zone were met with bigger punches. On fourth down, Desert Pines was flagged for a false start.
The Jaguars settled for a field goal. But for the first time since 2019, when Liberty became the first Nevada team to beat Bishop Gorman in 115 tries, there was a flicker of hope in a public school press box on the other side of town.
No blueprint for success
Two weeks before putting points on the board at Gorman, Desert Pines lost 16-7 to Liberty. That makes Rodriguez something of an expert on the Valley’s two best programs. Liberty will host Gorman at 6 p.m. Friday, with the winner representing Las Vegas in next week’s state championship game in Carson City.
Just as it was in 2019 — and every other season since 2009, when it began its run of 11 state titles in 12 seasons — Gorman will be such a heavy favorite that not even “Mattress Mack” has figured out a way to make money by wagering on the outcome.
“Gorman’s on another level with talent and just bodies. I’ve got five, six linemen. They’ve got 20,” Rodriguez said about the flicker of halftime hope being snuffed out by a flurry of Gorman TDs in the second half. “They’ve got a Division I guy at every position. They just keep coming.”
There is no blueprint to beating a private school heavyweight such as Bishop Gorman for a city public school program, Rodriguez said. But if you enter the ring looking as frightened as Michael Spinks against Mike Tyson, you will probably get knocked out within 91 seconds.
Rodriguez said his players, many of which grew up with Gorman’s, were respectful of all the Gaels have accomplished but not intimidated by it.
“They usually rely on big plays, and we limited the big plays in the first half,” Rodriguez said. “When they threw a (pass) for 5 yards, it didn’t turn into 50.”
Which is the opposite of what happened when Liberty played Gorman last year.
Keeping the fire burning
Liberty controlled the ball but allowed a 93-yard punt return to blue-chip recruit Zachariah Branch and a harmless-appearing pass completion in the flat that Jonathan Brady turned into an 80-yard touchdown in a 35-14 Gaels’ victory.
On the plus side, whereas Desert Pines had five Division I-caliber players transfer to out-of-state schools and were forced to play ninth-graders at quarterback, both wide receiver slots and offensive guard against Gorman, Liberty has much more depth.
Freshman mistakes were made in the second half last week that helped Gorman break the game open, Rodriguez said in alluding to a laundry list of things to do — and not do — to prevent the running clock from being applied.
Do not be intimidated, do not allow big plays, do not make freshman (or even senior) mistakes, do not settle for field goals should touchdowns be possible. And do not commit personal fouls or jump offside, which, in addition to its startling upset of Gorman three years ago, are other things for which Liberty is known.
“They’re going to have to play a perfect game,” Rodriguez said, because whereas trailing 14-3 at halftime might produce a hopeful flicker in a public school press box on the other side of town, it’s still probably going to take a flamethrower to beat a team such as Bishop Gorman.