CALIFORNIA 35, LIBERTY 24
Liberty struck first with a touchdown on the first play of the game, but it was the host Grizzlies that had the last laugh as they outscored the Lions 21-7 in the second half to earn a hard-fought win in a North Coast Section Division I quarterfinal. Justin Locklear rushed for 111 yards and Ryan Groleau hauled in six passes for 135 yards for California while Willie Williams caught five passes for 115 yards and rushed for 49 yards for Liberty.
WHY CALIFORNIA WON: The Grizzlies never panicked. Down 7-0 immediately, California head coach Eric Billeci and his coaching staff stuck to their game plan, relying on Cal’s usual hard-nosed running game to set up a passing game that was also effective when called on. Just before halftime, the Grizzlies ripped off a massive 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took over eight minutes off the clock and resulted in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Wooldridge to Peter Farina. That set the tone for a second half in which Cal was able to make its move.
WHY LIBERTY LOST: After passing for 157 yards in the first half, Liberty couldn’t sustain its aerial attack after halftime. California began to get pressure on Lions quarterback Joseph Tolentino and the coverage tightened, a combination that helped the Grizzlies hold Liberty to just 4 of 15 passing through the air in the second half. The Lions tried several different ways to get the ball into Williams’ hands but California was effective in limiting him to just six offensive touches (four rushes, two receptions) after intermission.
CALIFORNIA PLAYER OF THE GAME: California’s first offensive play of the game proved a sign of what was to come when Groleau got behind the Liberty defense to pull down a 49-yard pass from Wooldridge. The senior receiver/defensive back was seemingly everywhere, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards while also making the game’s biggest play on defense.
LIBERTY PLAYER OF THE GAME: Williams’ 80-yard touchdown catch and run to begin the game showed the immense talent of a player Liberty has relied on for big plays all season. He was the focus of California’s defense all night long, and although he never got to show off his kickoff return skills (all touchbacks), the multi-skilled athlete did everything he could to keep the Lions’ storybook season alive.
QUOTABLE: “We corrected the whole defense. The defensive line, linebackers and secondary all did their jobs and we kept them in check.” “” Groleau on what defensive adjustments California made in the second half.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR CALIFORNIA: The No. 4-seed Grizzlies now shift their focus to a familiar foe as they’ll travel to Owen Owens Field next Friday for a 7 p.m. game against No. 1 De La Salle. The two met on Nov. 7 to close out the regular season and the Spartans rolled to a 42-0 victory behind 160 yards rushing by Antoine Custer and 153 more from Andrew Hernandez. De La Salle received a bye in the first round of the playoffs and opened its postseason with a 65-16 win over a San Ramon Valley team that California beat 21-14 in the regular season.
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