Liberty gets rematch with San Jacinto in playoff opener

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Doug Spoon | Contributed

Things have gone very well for the Liberty High football team this season. The Bison are one overtime loss away from a perfect season, have outscored the opposition 393-173, and won the league championship by knocking off defending champion San Jacinto.

So what do they get as a reward in opening the CIF playoffs? A rematch with San Jacinto. The Mountain Pass League rivals will square off again Friday night at Liberty, the same place the Bison beat San Jacinto in a 40-37 thriller just two weeks ago. The Division 5 opener will begin at 7 p.m. and promises to be another shootout. “Welcome to the playoffs,’’ said Bison coach Adam Contreras Sunday after learning of his team’s opponent. “We know any team in Division 5 is going to be good, and San Jacinto is really good.

We tried to be bracketologists, and San Jacinto was one of the teams we knew we might face. Our guys will be ready.” Last season – their first against varsity competition – the Bison compiled a 9-1 regular-season record, same as this year. One big difference, however, was the San Jacinto game. The Tigers blew out the Bison, 42-0, in that 2022 meeting, serving notice that they were still the class of the league.

Liberty’s victory over the Tigers this season was a sign of just how far the Bison have come since then. Now it’s time to show that improvement in the playoffs, in which they lost a 28-20 decision to Elsinore in the first round last year. Contreras knows his players are up for the challenge, based on their play in close games in recent weeks. First, there was the Oct. 13 win over San Jacinto, in which Thiago Scapinelli’s second field goal of the game proved to be the difference in a three-point victory.

Then were was last Friday’s game, in which quarterback Anthony Quinones’ touchdown pass in the final seconds was decisive in a 37-34 win over Tahquitz. “To see our guys respond … to see the seniors step up as soon as [Tahquitz] scored and say, ‘Alright, let’s go’ … it was really good to see that,” Contreras said. The coach said there are advantages to playing an opponent for the second time in a short span, such as familiarity with the opponent’s game plan. At the same time, beating a rival twice in one football season is a challenge. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Contreras said. “We had to make some big plays to beat them, and we’re going to have to be solid again.” Division 10: Paloma Valley at West Covina, 7 p.m. League champions usually get a first-round home game in the playoffs, but that is no longer guaranteed under the current CIF ranking system.

Coaches don’t even know what division they will be placed in until the day the brackets are announced. Thus Paloma Valley coach Juan Merida wasn’t too surprised when it was announced that the Wildcats (7-3) would play at West Covina (8-2) in the first round of the Division 10 playoffs. “With this new ranking system, you just never know,” he said. “I thought we might get a local team, but it didn’t turn out that way.” Merida said he is encouraged by the improvement his players have made in fundamentals in recent weeks, which culminated in Friday’s 46-14 win over Lakeside. “I’ve learned that our players accept challenges really well,” Merida said. “Every week I have challenge them in a certain area. Whether it’s playing harder, tackling lower, driving their feet through the whistle … this week it was to play a little faster, and I think they did that.”

West Covina finished second in the San Antonio League. Division 14: Rancho Alamitos at Santa Rosa Academy, 7 p.m. Santa Rosa Academy capped off the regular season with a 54-8 win over Vasquez. Second-place finishers in the Cottonwood League, the Rangers take a 6-4 overall record into the home game. Rancho Alamitos, 7-3 overall, finished second in the Garden Grove League.

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