Las Vegas Sun's Ray Brewer and Case Keefer break down whether the Rattlers or Patriots have any chance to pull off the upset of the year.
Bishop Gorman senior defensive lineman Adam Plant sprung up from a pile he created by stuffing a Liberty running play and waved his arms across each other to motion that his team wasn’t going to give up anything.
It wasn’t an empty threat.
Bishop Gorman’s defense muffled Liberty’s offense in the state semifinals Friday afternoon at Rancho High en route to a 35-13 victory.
“We just went back to our technique,” Plant said. “We believed what coach had us doing all week, and we really executed it.”
On a day when the Gorman offense was relatively controlled, especially early, the defense played a large part in helping advance it to the state championship. The Gaels will take on Reed High at noon next Saturday at Mackey Stadium in Reno in an attempt to win its ninth straight state championship.
It’s inevitable that offense will always draw a disproportionate number of the accolades in football, and that’s certainly been the case during Gorman’s near-decade run on dominance. But the Gaels’ defense might have been more important in sustaining its success in somewhat of a transitional year this season, and one of its finest moments came Friday against another team that has emerged as a national power.
Liberty didn’t score, or even get near the red zone, until the fourth quarter when Bishop Gorman was already ahead 28-0. The Gaels surrendered only 41 yards on 21 plays to the Patriots in the first half, with Plant leading relentless pressure on Liberty quarterback Kenyon Oblad, the state’s all-time leading passer.
The back end of the defense was just as smothering, with Kyu Kelly and Micah Bowens snagging all-important interceptions when the game was still 7-0 in the second quarter.
Jeff Ulofoshio added another interception late in the game.
“They are a tough group to score on,” Bishop Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said of his defense. “If you’re going to score, you’ve got to earn it. I was proud of them today — 14 weeks, no byes and they’re still playing at an optimum level. I was proud of their physicality.”
Unfortunately for the Gaels, they weren’t the only impressive defense early. Gorman went 80 yards on seven plays in 3:45 on its opening drive to score on a 37-yard rush from Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but Liberty bottled it up on the next three possessions.
Crishaun Lappin, Kyle Beaudry and Tamakave Tai all had sacks, while Octavian Bell, Zephanie Maea and Luke Toomalatai made plays to ensure a pair of three-and-outs.
But the Patriots could only hold the Gaels for so long.
Thompson-Robinson found Cedric Tillman for a touchdown right before halftime, and the passing game continued to fly in the second half. Thompson-Robinson ended up throwing for 233 yards and three touchdowns on 20-for-24 passing.
The UCLA commit came into the season highly touted and has only gotten better.
“When you’re dealing with 16- and 17-year-olds that have everyone telling them how great they are, they have to go to practice and not believe that hype,” Sanchez said. “I think he’s done a good job of that, and not buying into the hype. It showed today.”
Thompson-Robinson’s favorite target in the semifinals was Miami commit Brevin Jordan, who had seven catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Tillman snagged another pass for a 54-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, just as the Gaels’ running game was also beginning to shine.
Amod Cianelli had 15 carries for 118 yards.
The Liberty offense came alive just as the defense slowed. Oblad finally found time after having little all day and responded with 84-yard and 5-yard touchdown strikes to Cervontes White.
On the first score, White appeared to be drug down after a short gain, but the referees never whistled the play dead. He kept running after the Gaels’ defense had let up thinking the play was over.
It was the rare miscue for Bishop Gorman’s defense, which was otherwise the driving force behind extending its imposing streak.
“They’ve been playing lights-out all year,” Sanchez said. “The most points they’ve given up was 28 points, and that was to the No. 1 team in the country. And they’ve only gotten better since then.”