Vaki leads Liberty HS to their 1st NCS Championship
Photo Credits: Phillip Walton and Ben Martin.
Beautiful football weather on a Saturday night here at Heritage HS in Brentwood to see a football rematch between Liberty Lions vs. Freedom Falcons. Who will win their first NCS Championship?
I came to see this Tongan student-athlete Sione Vaki who is a wide receiver/ strong safety that has got my attention due to his football ability. He is a transfer from Antioch HS where he played FB/TE as a true Sophomore last year on Varsity along with teammate Najee Harris (who is currently playing at Alabama). Sione who is the youngest of 10 siblings has been playing through pain as he lost his mother (Oto’oota) last year due to cancer. He is pursuing his dream through football with the support of family to help achieve his goal.
Freedom HS is coming off a successful season last year as they were a NorCal runner-up and their running back from last year Ronnie Rivers is the starting RB for Fresno State. The BVAL (Bay Valley Athletic League) is strong this year as we have 3 teams, Liberty, Freedom, and Pittsburg, playing for an NCS Championship. This league is the strongest one in the Bay Area for the current football season.
To start the game, both teams on their first offensive possession go 3 and out. Liberty’s next possession gives them good field position on the Falcon’s 39 yard line. Freedom’s defense stuffs them. When Freedom got the ball, QB #16 Joey Aguilar threw a bomb to his wide receiver — good for 50 yards, but a holding penalty negated that play.
Still 0-0 to start the 2nd quarter and the Lions are grinding it out on offense. The QB, #9 Jay Butterfield (a sophomore) passes to #22 Sione Vaki for his first reception and an 11 yard gain. The drive ends with a 26 yard field goal by kicker, Johan Diaz to take the lead 3-0 with 7:38 remaining. On the next Liberty offensive drive, #4 Tyrell Sturges-Cofer runs for 60 yards to the Falcons 17. Two plays later, Sturges-Cofer scores from 6 yards out and Liberty leads it, 9-0 with 4:08 remaining.
Freedom is going 2 minute drill as QB Aguilar throws a 14 yard pass to #2 WR Baylel Coston. Next play another pass play to #4 WR Mekel Ealy as he got the ball in the flat but the DB from Liberty, #2 Jerrin Easter-Williams forced a fumble which Liberty recovered. The Lions start on the Freedom 43 with 1:35 remaining in the half. Two plays later QB Butterfield throws to Vaki who runs a seam and is wide open for a 33 yard TD. Liberty takes the lead at the half 16-0.
At halftime, the lights went out. I’m thinking this is part of the Halftime show for the Liberty’s marching band? No dice. Maybe Heritage forgot to pay their PG&E bill (lol). Eventually the lights return to an excited crowd for both schools — they play D1 football and have been overshadowed by the success of other programs including perennial powerhouse, De La Salle.
To start the 3rd quarter, both teams are starting slow. I’m noticing on special teams that Freedom is kicking swift kicks to avoid return specialist, Liberty’s #84 Thomas Vi, as he has been known to return kicks for touchdowns. On Liberty’s offensive drive midway in the 3rd quarter, QB Butterfield on 3rd and 13 throws to #17 WR Adrik Lamar for 29 yards. Continuing the drive on 4th & 10, the Lions go for it and Butterfield connects with #14 WR Zane Hinojosa for 23 yards, and a first down at the Falcons 9 yard line. On the next play, Sturges-Cofer rushes up the middle for the score. Liberty extends their lead 23-0 with 3:35 remaining. I’m very impressed with Liberty’s offensive line, no surprise as their OL coach, Jeremy Newberry is an ex-San Francisco 49er. Their left guard #71 Mateo Buack (who is half Filipino/ half Mexican) has great feet pulling. The Liberty defense is lighting up Freedom.
First play of the 4th quarter and another touchdown run by Sturges-Cofer for 44 yards as Liberty extends their lead to 30-0. Freedom just can’t do anything offensively / defensively. Tough night! On the Lions next drive, Butterfield completes with a 7 yard TD pass to Vaki to increase their lead to 37-0. The refs have seen enough so they put on the running clock to get this game over with — final score, 37-0 Liberty Lions.
#4 Tyrell Sturges-Cofer finishes with 28 carries for 244 yards.
Keep in mind that Sturges-Cofer and Vaki are both juniors and the QB, Butterfield is a sophomore who is a midseason starter. The whole offensive line is coming back, so 2018 will be very promising for Liberty and first-year Head Coach Ryan Partridge (previously Livermore HS). He has a great team and I’m sure he will strengthen his non-conference 2018 schedule.
Coaches are asking me to bring some more Tongan kids due to the success of Sione Vaki. This young man is well-grounded and he trains at Malu Fitness. Sione has helped put Liberty and the City of Brentwood on the map. The two best Tongan football players in the San Francisco Bay Area for the 2017 football season in my personal opinion are Sione Vaki and Henry To’oto’o of De La Salle HS, both juniors. Congratulations on the 2017 Liberty Lions as they complete their football season as North Coast Section Division 1 Champions.
Til next time.
Ofa Atu -George