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By Henry A. Barrios / The CalifornianThe football pops looses in the 1st half of Liberty and Central High's Central Section division 1 semi-final game. Liberty recovered the fumble.
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By Henry A. Barrios / The CalifornianLiberty High's # 15 Christian Sinnott makes a diving attempt in the end zone in their game against Central High in the Central Section division 1 semi-final game.
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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
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By Henry A. Barrios / The CalifornianCentral High # 4 Michiah Quick makes a reception as Liberty High's # 3 Devin Stevenson defends in their Central Section division 1 semi-final game Friday.
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
FRESNO -- Liberty High has beaten quick teams this season, most notably Bakersfield High.
But the Patriots were no match for Fresno-Central's quickness and athleticism Friday night.
The fourth-seeded Grizzlies scored 28 second-half points and pulled away after halftime for a 35-14 win over No. 8 Liberty in the Central Section Division I semifinals at Central.
The Grizzlies (11-2) will face second-seeded Clovis North (12-1) on Friday in Central's bid for its first section football title.
Central's offense was explosive in the second half against Liberty (8-5), which was coming off a two-point win one week earlier that KO'd top-seeded Clovis.
The Grizzlies rushed for 306 yards -- 203 of those in the second half -- and broke the game open with a series of big-play touchdowns.
"Central is an exceptional team with great explosiveness," Liberty coach Tony Mills said. "Our defense was on the field way too much. We weren't able to move the ball with any consistency at all on offense.
"That's probably what determined the outcome of the game."
The Central defense had a brilliant night. The Grizzlies limited Liberty to 59 total yards and three first downs in the second half.
Offensively, the two biggest Central playmakers were running back Rasean Jones and quarterback L.J. Moore.
Jones, who came into the game with 555 net rushing yards this season and six touchdowns, erupted for 188 yards on 23 carries, with touchdown runs of 9, 41 and 49 yards, the latter two during an 18-point third quarter.
Moore, who was moved from wide receiver to quarterback late in the season, added a 24-yard TD run in the fourth quarter and used his quickness to create first-down runs on several other carries. He had 83 yards on 11 attempts, and was also 6-of-9 passing for 33 yards.
Central got little production from its top running back, Nick Wilson, who reportedly suffered a sprained shoulder in the Grizzlies' win over Bakersfield one week earlier.
Wilson, who has 1,514 yards and 15 TDs this season, had only 36 yards on 10 carries.
"Any time you play against a team with as much depth as Central, you worry about getting worn down," Mills said. "That's what happened tonight. Our defense got worn down."
Jones' 9-yard TD run on Central's second play from scrimmage gave the Grizzlies a 7-0 lead with 9:48 left in the first quarter.
That was set up by a 53-yard punt return by Michiah Quick.
The Patriots countered with a 64-yard, nine-play drive capped by Josh Medina's 17-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Ross Puskarich with 4:03 left in the first quarter.
Central had three first-half turnovers and Liberty either started drives inside Grizzlies' territory or drove past the 50 on four first-half possessions. But they couldn't add any points.
And Central then broke it open with its three-TD third quarter, a period when Liberty had zero first downs, three net passing yards and five net rushing yards.
Senior running back Corbin Jountti, playing his final game for the Patriots, had 104 yards on 28 carries but had only 37 net yards after halftime.
Medina was 13-of-26 passing with two TDs. He also had a 4-yard touchdown pass to Christian Sinnott on a fourth-and-goal, with Sinnott making a fine catch in the back of the end zone by managing to keep his feet inbounds. He also threw two interceptions after throwing only one all season before Friday.
Mills said the final third of the season was special for the Patriots.
"After we lost to Stockdale, we were 4-4 and there was a real question whether we were going to make the playoffs," Mills said. "We reeled off four straight victories. We beat the one seed, Clovis, and we beat Bakersfield when they were the one seed in the Valley.
"I'm extremely proud of our guys."