The Buchanan Bears sang to the tune of their fight song with tears in their eyes after their 28-21 playoff loss to Liberty-Bakersfield.
For many seniors, this was the last time they will play football. Few will get the chance to play college football, while underclassmen will gear up for next season. No matter what the path may be, Buchanan head coach Matt Giordano’s message remains loud and clear for his team.
His and the coaches love for the players doesn’t change based on the outcome of the game, especially for his seniors.
“This is just a chapter,” Giordano said. “This is not the story. This is just the end of the chapter for these seniors. And we’re praying for great things after high school for them.”
One of those seniors is running back Caden Rodgers, who scored all three touchdowns in tonight’s loss versus the Patriots.
“It meant the world to be a part of Buchanan football,” Rodgers said. “The standard that coach Giordano and the rest of the coaches have implemented has made me not only a better player but a better man. Everyone on this team gave it their all this season and I think a lot of that has to do with the culture coach Giordano has set.”
Rodgers’ first touchdown came in the second quarter. Already down 7-0, Buchanan quarterback Jayden Mandal converted on third down with a 25-yard run. A couple of plays later, Rodgers punched his way in for a 1-yard touchdown run to tie it up 7-7 with 8:42 left.
The ties were short-lived; three minutes later, Liberty’s Jason Oliver returned a punt for a touchdown to regain the lead 14-7.
But in its last drive of the first half, the Bears orchestrated a drive that included a 25-yard pass from Mandal to wide receiver Sam Luna and with Rodgers finding the endzone once again to tie the game at 14.
After a scoreless third quarter, Liberty’s Grant Austin gave the Patriots the lead early in the fourth quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run.
The very next drive, Rodgers completed the trifecta as he powered his way down the field with a 49-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game again 21-21 with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots completed a crucial 4th-and-1 on the Bears’ 32 yard line that required the officials to measure the play. This led Austin to score his second touchdown of the night for the Patriots on a 19-yard run to put them up 28-21 with 2:38 left.
The Bears had one last drive left, but it was plagued with penalties, setting Buchanan back on fourth down. As Mandal was looking down the field for one last play, he unleashed a pass that was intercepted by Liberty’s Deon Williams to secure their 28-21 win.
Liberty head coach Bryan Nixon showed much respect for Buchanan.
“We find a way to have a great game with Buchanan every year,” Nixon said. “They’re a very well coached, very physical and very disciplined football team.
We knew it was going to be a battle during those 48 minutes.”
Liberty will face Central next week in the Valley Championship.