BRENTWOOD, Calif. – Liberty junior quarterback Jay Butterfield came to the sideline at the end of the third quarter displaying visible frustration, after getting sacked by Clayton Valley’s Dusty Mitchell. Butterfield was angry that the route he had been looking for never materialized on the previous play, and the Lions were now facing a 3rd-and-19 to open the fourth quarter, leading Clayton Valley by just eight points.
As the coaching staff settled down their star signal-caller between quarters, he requested the same play call, sending three receivers to the right while leaving senior Sione Vaki alone on the left side. This time, everyone did what they were supposed to do, and a short post route from the inside slot drew attention from the Clayton Valley safety, which allowed Vaki to fly behind him to the middle of the field, also on a post route. Butterfield delivered the ball almost the second that his fifth drop-back step settled on the turf, and Vaki never broke stride, racing 71 yards for the touchdown and momentum that would never cease as the Lions (11-0) rolled to the 42-14 victory.
“I saw the safety fly to that inside post across the middle, so I knew the post (to Sione) would be there,” Butterfield said. “It was a great bounce-back play on third and long.”
The long scoring strike came on the first play of the fourth quarter, and followed a huge stop by the Liberty defense deep in Lions’ territory. Trailing just 14-6, Clayton Valley (9-2) started on its own 39-yard line with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter and embarked on a clock-grinding drive, running power to both sides until the Ugly Eagles were inside the Liberty 10-yard line. Inexplicably, however, Clayton Valley attempted a sweep to the right on first down, a counter reverse on second down, play-action on third down and a power toss on fourth down. On the final play of the sequence, Liberty senior Jerrin Easter-Williams sniffed it out in the backfield, forcing the turnover on downs.
“Jerrin is such a clutch player for us, and plays about seven different positions,” said Liberty coach Ryan Partridge. “He makes the defensive checks for us, and he called out their key on that play, so we knew what was coming.”
The game did not start as smoothly as it finished for the Lions. The offense bobbled snaps, nearly missed handoffs in the backfield, and Butterfield’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Clayton Valley’s Priest Preston, who returned the ball to the Liberty 11-yard line. That set up a two-yard touchdown run by Makhi Gervais and an early 6-0 lead for the Ugly Eagles.
“The first half reminded me of our Freedom game earlier this season,” Partridge said. “We were sloppy, and overthinking play calls. We just had to tweak a few things. Our dudes made the plays, we just had to settle in. And our defense played unreal, always making the big stop.”
Butterfield, in particular, got off to a slow start for Liberty, as his first eight pass attempts netted just 11 total yards.
“I started off very slow and I was a little rusty, but my teammates and coaches kept picking me up,” Butterfield added. “The last drive (of the first half) we went hurry-up offense and that really got my confidence up and got our momentum going.”
Indeed, the Lions turned completely to the air on their final drive of the second quarter. Butterfield completed 8-of-10 passes on the drive for 86 yards, the last one being a 13-yard quick fade route to Vaki for a touchdown with 15 seconds left in the half, and a 7-6 lead at the break.
Liberty added to the lead on its first possession of the third quarter, when Butterfield hit Adrik Lamar in stride on a play-action pass, on third and short from the Lions’ own 35-yard line, resulting in a 65-yard score.
“Jay called the touchdown pass to Adrik, along with the one later to Sione,” Partridge said. “Everytime he does that, he knows what he wants and we go with it. The guys really understood what we were trying to accomplish in this game, especially after 29 days of preparation for it.”
After the 3rd-and-19 strike from Butterfield to Vaki early in the fourth quarter, the Liberty offense wasted no time creating extra separation the next time they got the ball. This time, senior back Tyerell Sturges-Cofer broke free from multiple would-be tacklers near the line of scrimmage, and then dashed 64 yards down the right sideline to make it 28-6, with 9:08 left in the game.
“After we were throwing the ball a ton, Tyerell was ready to take advantage of that,” Butterfield said. “Our offensive line does a great job opening holes for him, and he does not go down easy. His strength and speed really make him a great running back and I feel he should be getting recruited a lot heavier than he is right now.”
Clayton Valley temporarily cut into the deficit, after a 66-yard burst by Steven Henry II led to a one-yard run by quarterback Logan Sumter, but Sturges-Cofer broke loose again, this time for a 27-yard touchdown with just over five minutes remaining, putting the game firmly out of reach. Brenden Bell capped the scoring for the Lions with his touchdown run in the final minute of the game.
Sturges-Cofer finished his night with 101 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while Butterfield shook off his slow start to finish with 261 yards through the air, completing all seven of his passes in the second half. Vaki and Lamar both went over 100 yards receiving.
Now, the Lions prepare for next Saturday night’s game against De La Salle for the Open Division title, in a game that will be played at Dublin High.
“This is something special,” Partridge concluded. “The goal starting in summer was to have a shot at De La Salle and get to state. We knew we had to win every game to make it happen, and now we are here.”