After a clumsy first half filled with penalties, post-fight scuffles and turnovers, Liberty led Basic by eight points Thursday night as the teams took to the locker room.
On the Patriots’ first offensive play of the second half, Ethan Dedeaux beat the Basic defenders around the corner and galloped 79 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
The next time the Patriots touched the ball, Darion Acohido returned a punt 65 yards for the score, and Liberty never looked back in a 51-15 blowout win to clinch its seventh straight Southeast League title.
“Whenever we need a spark, it’s always Ethan or Acohido,” said Liberty quarterback Kenyon Oblad. “They are our go-to guys for everything, whether it’s at receiver, running back, defense or special teams. You need people like that on your team, and we are lucky to have two of them.”
Dedeaux finished the game with five catches for 126 yards and a touchdown, the 79-yard rushing touchdown and an interception on defense.
The Patriots could have put the game away early, but couldn’t get out of their own way.
“It was terrible with the penalties,” said coach Rich Muraco. “The kids have to learn how to walk that fine line between being too amped up for a game and be able to control their emotions and not take stupid personal foul penalties.”
But while the offense struggled to pull away, Liberty’s stellar defense kept them in the game.
Basic quarterback Aaron McAllister was sacked five times and threw three interceptions.
“I’m proud of those guys,” Muraco said of his defense, which is allowing only 12 points per game in league play. “Our defense is good when we align right and do our assignments. They are very fast, talented and physical.”
Senior Damahny Whittle led the pass rush with two sacks and was harassing McAllister all night.
The Patriots defense held Basic to minus-13 rushing yards for the game.
With the win, Liberty finishes atop the Southeast division for the seventh consecutive season and has won 18 straight regular season games against in-state opponents.
“It never gets old winning championships and putting banners up in the gym,” Muraco said. “It’s the first step that we need to take to get to our ultimate goal.”
Liberty’s next step on a path to a state title rematch with Bishop Gorman is next Friday’s opening-round playoff game against Valley (2-7).
“I feel like we are a tighter unit as a team than last year,” Oblad said. “Our defense is playing really well and our offense is clicking, but once we get rid of the penalties, then we will really be dangerous.”