Liberty hadn’t had a convincing victory against a traditional East Valley powerhouse but the blossoming program can check that box now.
The host Lions overwhelmed a struggling Scottsdale Chaparral squad, 48-21, behind a stout defense and running game led by senior Colton Newton.
“It is a huge win and a milestone for where we are headed,” said Newton, who rushed for three touchdowns in the first half. “For the first time we came together as a team.”
Liberty (5-2) had never defeated Chaparral (2-5) in its varsity history after almost pulling the feat off a year earlier in a riveting 42-27 loss.
“For our kids and our program that is a signature win,” Liberty coach Mark Smith said. “I know Chaparral is down and has some injuries but there is traditional pride over there.”
Liberty was opportunistic in the first half as Kade Heddings intercepted a pass, Chaparral missed a 32-yard field goal attempt and the Lions defense forced two punts.
While the Firebirds tried to find its footing offensively, the Lions piled up points as Newton had three touchdown runs (of 9, 10 and 13 yards). Junior slot receiver Ryan Bendle added 13-yard jet sweep to build a 28-7 lead with 2:26 left in the first half.
“The teams that are going to win in November they have to run the ball, stop the run and play good special teams – that’s our focus,” Smith said. “Those teams that go out and put 60 on the board and throw it 50 times aren’t winning state championships or advancing.”
Chaparral did slice the the lead to 28-14 just before the half as Grayson Barry found Nick St. John on a seam route for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
But the momentum didn’t carry over after halftime for Chaparral as Heddings intercepted passes on consecutive drives, the second of which the junior safety returned 55 yards to pay dirt to build a 42-14 lead with 8:23 left in the third.
“Our philosophy is shut down the run and make them pass,” said Heddings, who set a program record with the three interceptions. “We wanted to make them one dimensional.”
Chaparral had little fight from then on and Liberty continued to pound the football on the ground as Newton finished with 148 yards on 19 carries.
“We have six guys blocking people and one guy in the hole isn’t going to bring Newton down,” Smith said. “It’s about who is going to execute.”
Bendle scored his second TD that was similar to his first on a 10-yard jet sweep early in the fourth for good measure.