By Barry Wong
In the NFL last week, the New England Patriots featured an unknown running back named Jonas Gray, who ran for 199 yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns in a 42-20 win over the Colts. The move was very Patriot-esque. One week, New England can spread you out and throw all over the field, and the next week they can go with double tight ends and pound the football.
Locally, the Patriots of Liberty High School can sometimes mirror their pro counterparts.
“It makes us unpredictable,” senior defensive lineman/tight end Noah Jefferson said.
Two years ago, the Patriots ran for nearly 3,000 yards. Last year, they passed more than 4,100. This year, the pass/run yardage ratio is 57 percent pass and 43 percent run.
“The versatility is something not a lot of schools have in the valley,” Liberty head coach Rich Muraco said. “We present some problems for teams.”
Injuries have created some of Liberty’s versatility. Coming into the season, the Patriots deepest position was running back, but with senior Ethan Tuilagi and junior Calvin Tubbs missing games early in the season, the position became the biggest challenge for the team.
The results: freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad was forced to learn on the job, attempting more than 20 passes in each of the first four games of the season (he’s only attempted more than 20 in one game the rest of the season), and an unknown senior stepping in and stepping up at running back — Spencer Wilson.
Wilson had more defensive interceptions (three) than carries (zero) as a junior last season. He played defensive back, finishing the year with 44 total tackles.
“In Hawaii, I played kind of wildcat quarterback, so I knew I could run the ball well,” Wilson said.
The senior asked Muraco if he could try running back early this season, after the injury bug hit the backfield.
“I was a little hesitant at first. I believe it was the Palo game (Wilson had 12 carries for 67 yards) when I really started noticing him running the ball hard, one cut, getting 5-6 yards a carry,” Muraco said. “From there, it’s all trust and confidence, and he has my trust and confidence.”
Now, with Wilson and a healthy Tuilagi and Tubbs sharing carries, and an experienced Oblad under center, the Liberty Patriots can mimic the New England Patriots, by spreading the field to throw or go double-tight-end to ground and pound.
“It’s just like Madden. They stop the run, what are you going to do? Pass. They stop the pass, what are you going to do? Try and run some more,” the USC-bound Jefferson said.
Liberty (9-2) hosts Basic (6-5) tonight at 7 p.m. in the Sunrise Region title game. The winner will face the winner of tonight’s battle of the unbeatens in the Sunset Region final between No. 1 ranked Bishop Gorman (12-0) at Arbor View (11-0) in the state semifinals next Saturday.