PIAA “AAAA” State Title Game – Bethlehem Liberty Preview
Written by: Josh Funk on Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
District 1, specifically the Suburban One conference, had dominated the eastern half of the state in the “AAAA” classification for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t uncommon to see Central Bucks West, North Penn, or Neshaminy playing for a state title.
But something happened since 2002. That something was a shift in the balance of power, and it went a little farther north, and it settled upon the Lehigh Valley in District 11.
Since 2002, District 11 has played in five of the last seven state championship games at the “AAAA” level.
Bethlehem Liberty (14-1) is making its third state finals appearance in the last four years, and the Hurricanes will face WPIAL champion Bethel Park (15-0) for the golden football in Pennsylvania’s largest classification. Kickoff from Hersheypark Stadium is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday.
While Liberty has been laying claim to the eastern half of the state, winning its third Eastern Finals and its fifth District 11 championship, the red and blue have been owned in every sense by the WPIAL.
McKeesport and Upper St. Clair drubbed Liberty in consecutive years by a combined margin of 96-23 (48-11.5). And the funny thing was, Liberty had wickedly productive spread offenses each year, scoring 522 points in ’05 and a school-record 618 points in ’06.
Yet, Liberty was dominated by each time by a more physical and hungrier team from the WPIAL. And in each of the four state title games featuring a District 11-WPIAL match-up, the final margin of victory hasn’t been fewer than 21 points.
Liberty can erase all the pain of the last two trips to Hershey with a stellar effort Saturday. It’s not like Liberty hasn’t faced the big stage this season – the Hurricanes have twice played North Penn, splitting those meetings, and faced Parkland and city rival Bethlehem Freedom twice as well.
In fact, for the first meeting between Liberty and Freedom, Liberty racked up 332 rushing yards in front of a very loud crowd of over 12,000 people.
The M.O. for Liberty has been to line up and just run, run, run the football, taking the wind out of opponents and eating gobs of time off the game clock. It’s an equation that has allowed Liberty to average 31.7 points per game and tie a school record for victories in a season.
Brendan Brader, Anthony Gonzales, and Daryl Klotz are the main trio of threats in the Liberty ground game, which averages over 250 yards per game. Brader has posted a team-best 1,884 yards and 23 touchdowns, and Gonzales isn’t far behind. His 1,487 yards and 21 touchdowns are equally impressive, giving Liberty one of 30 backfields with two 1,000-yard rushers since 2002.
Klotz, the fullback, rounds out the trio. His 393 yards and four scores aren’t as eye-popping as Brader or Gonzales’ stat lines, but he was vital to Liberty’s success against North Penn last weekend. His 71 yards rushing were a season-high, and he’s also a heck of a blocker, opening up some nice holes for Brader to follow.
Gonzales’ passing stats are respectable – 1,481 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s completed 56 percent of his passes. Gonzales’ favorite target is Devin Street, a Pittsburgh commit, who has hauled in 44 passes for 770 yards and seven touchdowns. Horvin Lattimer and Brader are also potential targets for Gonzales’ passes.
Liberty is led by head coach Tim Moncman, who has won 80 career games and helped Liberty to five straight years of 10 wins or more. Since the start of 2004, Liberty has posted a 61-9 overall record.
Liberty also boasts an impressive 12th man – a rowdy crowd coupled with an award-winning 250-member marching band which will be featured in the 2009 Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena.
Will Liberty shake its state finals jinx and finally lay its hands on a golden football?
Find out Saturday.
NOTE: Since Parkland’s state finals victory over Woodland Hills, District 11 is just 1-7 in state title games. District 11 had been an impressive 8-1 before 2003, with the lone loss coming from Pen Argyl in 2001.
Bethlehem Liberty individual statistics are according to the Allentown Morning Call.
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