After a rocky week-one loss to Narbonne High, the Buchanan Bears football team appears to have caught fire and they proved just that in its 19-17 victory over the previously-undefeated Liberty-Bakersfield Patriots at Veterans Memorial Stadium Friday night.
It was far from a walk in the park, though; this is football after all. The Bears were once again without their star running back and epicenter of the team’s offense in Kendall Milton, who was still recovering from a leg injury suffered against Narbonne.
The Bears fell behind with two minutes left in the first quarter when Liberty’s quarterback Haden Mann hit Jason Oliver in stride down the left sideline for 47 yards, setting the Patriots up at the Bears 3-yard-line.
The Bears defense held the Patriots and prevented a touchdown, forcing Liberty to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Breyden Blevins to take a 3-0 lead.
Buchanan tried to answer, but on two consecutive drives, holding penalties forced the Bears into very long third downs that they were unable to convert.
Liberty took advantage of the mistakes. Starting at its own 19, the Patriots drove down inside the Bears 20 when running back Dylan Tooker scampered into the end zone from 15 yards out, and after the extra point, Buchanan found itself in a 10-0 hole that it would have to dig itself out of.
The Bears answered with a 4-yard touchdown pass by DJ Stevenson to Brandon Hernandez. A missed extra point meant Buchanan would head into halftime down 10-6.
Luckily for Buchanan, despite the slow offensive start, the team still had the entire second half to make up for it.
With the ball to start the second half, the Bears took advantage of the opportunity by using explosive plays.
Bears offensive weapon Cade Uehling decided to take things into his own hands and fill the void left by Milton’s absence.
Just a minute into the third quarter, Uehling broke through the Liberty defensive line into the secondary and he was off to the races. He blazed past pursuing Liberty defenders to the endzone for a 73-yard touchdown.
Uehling was quick to deflect the credit and instead praised his teammates for putting him in position.
“It really wasn’t me,” Uehling said. “My O-line, receivers, everyone was doing their job and I just did mine.”
But, yet another missed extra point meant that the Bears only led 12-10, leaving them vulnerable to losing the lead by a Liberty field goal.
But, as the Patriots moved the ball down the field, the Bears needed something to flip field position and keep the momentum they worked so hard to establish. Defensive back CJ Jones, who has had a knack for creating turnovers, once again came through by intercepting Mann’s pass in the end zone, resulting in a touchback, giving them the ball at their own 20.
Remember that big play by Uehling? He wasn’t finished.
This time, he caught a Stevenson pass on an out route down the right sideline, which he proceeded to take all the way to paydirt for a 75-yard score. Suddenly the Bears had a 19-10 lead after the successful extra point.
Liberty answered on the ensuing possession with a 4-yard rushing touchdown to cut the lead to two, 19-17.
The Bears couldn’t replicate its previous offensive possession and punted back to Liberty, setting up a scenario in which the Bears defense, not the offense, would have to come up big to save the game.
Liberty moved the ball down to the Buchanan’s 38 but were faced with a 4th and long to keep the game going.
The Bears forced an incomplete pass on a batted ball, sealing the win and a three-game win streak.
Buchanan (3-1) will face perennial powerhouse De La Salle on September 20 in Concord. The Bears lost a hotly contested game 31-24 last season.
Head coach Matt Giordano said that the win against Liberty can help prepare the team for games just like the one next week.
“These wins bring the team closer and that’s exactly what we need to do,” Giordano said. “We need to get better and come closer together as a great team.”