Buchanan needed to make a statement.
The Bears first three games were a mismatch not only on paper but on the field as they outscored Hanford, Bullard and Lemoore by a combined score of 154-24.
In short, Buchanan needed to prove they belong among the upper echelon of Division 1 football programs.
And they responded accordingly against a tough Liberty-Bakersfield team, using a fast and furious 2 minutes and 20 seconds of football in the second quarter, using a bruising offensive line and a gritty defensive front seven to topple the Patriots 34-28 on a refreshingly pleasant Thursday evening at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Sophomore running back Kendall Milton made a statement of his own with perhaps the best game of his young varsity career, despite fumbling on the Bears’ first possession of the game.
Milton, a 6-foot-2, 208 pounder with multiple Division 1 college offers, scored four touchdowns to go along with 248 rushing yards on only 17 carries including runs of 22, 46, 60 and 47 yards, the final one with 2:02 left in the game to give the Bears (4-0) breathing room after Liberty (1-2) had rallied to close the game to 28-21 with a furious fourth quarter comeback.
“The biggest thing to note about Kendall is that he fumbled the opening drive and look how he finished,” said Buchanan head coach Matt Giordano about Milton. “That shows the maturity he’s starting to develop. When he was patient and when he got his shot he took advantage of it.”
Milton is also seeing time at linebacker, and recorded a quarterback sack resulting in a Buchanan fumble recovery.
Liberty, the 2015 Division 1 Central Section champ, was sloppy taking care of the football with three total fumbles lost, the second one leading to a wild and exciting sequence for Buchanan in the second quarter.
After a Liberty punt to Buchanan’s 38-yard line, the Bears moved the ball to the Patriots’ 25 when senior Trevor Ervin busted through a sea of Patriot defenders for a touchdown with 9:21 left in the second quarter for a 15-7 lead.
Milton then scored 26 seconds later on a 46-yard dash on the first play after a Liberty fumble followed by a 60-yard sprint up the middle, outrunning opponents and leaving them in his wake after the Bears forced a three-and-out on their next possession.
But Liberty wouldn’t go away, and Buchanan had trouble finishing the game strong, especially in the second half that saw their lead dwindle to 28-21 as Patriot quarterback Isaiah Hill threw three fourth quarter touchdowns.
“It’s one of those lesson our kids have to learn,” said Giordano. “We have to learn how to finish against a good opponent.”
Milton’s final touchdown run gave Buchanan a 34-21 lead, and after Hill’s final touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining the Bears foiled Liberty’s onside kick attempt to seal the win.
“You’ve got to hand it to Liberty, they didn’t give up.” Giordano said. “That just shows you what kind of program they are. They are a class program. They don’t give up, are well coached and fought up to the end.”
Not unsung was the play of senior linebackers Wolf and Ervin and the defensive line led by Toa Scanlan.
The team held Sam Stewart to 23 yards on 12 carries, a load of a running back who came into the game with two 100-yard games, including a bruising performance in Liberty’s 31-30 victory over Clovis West in week 1.
“I think we accomplished what we set out to do,” said Wolf, who is also a member of Buchanan’s baseball team. “We never thought we were going to lose and that’s what makes this team so good. I felt like we were really prepared.”