RICHLAND — For the second straight year, the Neah Bay football team will be playing in the state 1B semifinals.
And for the second straight year, the Red Devils will face both Liberty Christian and Liberty Bell in the postseason.
Despite being a No. 5 seed and playing on the road, and despite losing three fumbles, Neah Bay (9-2) won easily Saturday, crushing host Liberty Christian 52-20 in the state 1B quarterfinals.
The Red Devils will next get to play No. 1 seed Liberty Bell (8-0), a public school out of Winthrop in the Methow Valley, in the state semifinals at a neutral site — the Apple Bowl in Wenatchee, at 1 p.m. Saturday. If Neah Bay can win, the Red Devils would next play in the state championship at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
Neah Bay played Liberty Christian in last year’s state semifinals, easily beating the Patriots 82-24. The Red Devils faced Liberty Bell in the state championship game last year, losing 50-12. Liberty Bell also beat Neah Bay 50-24 to open the season this year, but since then the Red Devils have won nine straight, outscoring their opponents by a staggering 602-136 (66.9 points per game).
“We’re coming together at the right time of year,” said coach TJ Greene. “I think we’ve got as good a shot as anyone else.”
Greene pointed out that Neah Bay is a much different team from the one Liberty Bell beat in early September.
“We hope we have made the adjustments and improvements to play well in that game,” he said.
On Saturday, the Red Devils got their opening score on defense. Neah Bay’s opening drive stalled deep in the Patriots’ territory, but on Liberty Christian’s ensuing possession, Neah Bay’s Seactis Woodruff caused a fumble and Adan Ellis gobbled up the ball for a 25-yard scoop and score to make it 6-0.
“That was an outstanding play and good awareness [by Ellis],” Greene said.
Both teams had powerful running games with the Patriots’ Charlie Branning having gained 1,900 yards this season. However, the Red Devils have a pretty solid one-two punch in Jodell Wimberley and Tyler Swan and the duo chewed up yardage and clock on Neah Bay’s next drive, 5 to 8 yards at a time. The drive ended with a Wimberley 12-yard touchdown to make it 12-0.
Wimberley finished with 158 yards on 20 carries while Swan had 114 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Matthias Greene ran five times for 43 yards as Neah Bay finished with 315 yards rushing.
Branning was barely a factor in the game, though he did have one late 56-yard touchdown run when the game was all but over.
Coach Greene gave Cayden Smith credit for stopping Branning most of the game from his linebacker position.
“He came up big on his assignments. He made sure he stayed contained,” Greene said. “Our defense executed the game plan to keep him under wraps.”
Smith finished with seven tackles, including two for losses.
Liberty Christian tried to go to its passing game, throwing long bombs downfield. They had receivers open at times well downfield for easy touchdowns, but the Patriots were only able to connect on one big pass, and that was a trick halfback pass play.
The rest of the game
The Patriots made a strange decision to go for it on a fourth-and-long at their own 14-yard line midway through the second quarter still down 12-0. The conversion attempt failed, giving Neah Bay an extremely short field. The Red Devils scored their third touchdown on only two plays — a Wimberley 13-yard gain and a Matthias Greene one-yard plunge. A Swan two-point conversion made it 20-0.
The Patriots broke through late in the second quarter on a 43-yard halfback pass play for a score. After Liberty Christian got the two-point conversion, the Patriots were right back in the game at 20-8.
On Liberty Christian’s next drive, a sack by Greene gave Neah Bay the ball on a turnover on downs near midfield with only 24 seconds left. Instead of running out the clock, Wimberley hit Smith with a 29-yard pass as the Red Devils went to their own halfback pass. Then, with just one second left in the half, Greene hit Ellis with a 20-yard touchdown pass. That gave the Red Devils a huge boost of momentum as they went into the halftime break with a 28-8 lead after a Swan two-point conversion.
Swan had a pair of fumbles to open the second half. But Swan did get redemption, breaking several tackles and bulling his way into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. After a Chambers two-point conversion, it was 36-8.
“That was an outstanding way [for Swan] to bounce back. That was good maturity from a sophomore,” coach Greene said.
Again, Liberty Christian made an odd decision, going for it on fourth and 20 at their own 15. After failing to convert, Neah Bay quickly scored on a Wimberley five-yard run. After a Greene pass to Seactis Woodruff, it was 44-8.
After Branning finally got a big run, his only one of the game, to make it 44-14, Swan finished the Neah Bay scoring with a seven-yard run in the fourth quarter, capped by a Wimberley two-pointer.
Makyah Chambers also had an interception.