When you’ve got a player like James Heer, you give him the ball. Over and over.
That’s just what the Lancers did on Saturday night, as Heer carried 33 times for 196 yards with a touchdown and Liberty claimed its spot in the State 2B title game for the second year in a row with a 21-16 win over Asotin on the turf at Gonzaga Prep.
Liberty, which lost to Napavine 34-16 in last year’s 2B championship, will meet Kalama at 4 p.m. Saturday for the state title. Kalama defeated Napavine 20-13 in the day’s other semifinal.
Heer also led the Lancers in tackles with eight solo and three assists.
“We just kept trying to get him the ball, get the first downs and keep their offense off the field as much as we could,” Liberty coach Mike Dewey said.
Informed that his number of carries was over 30, Heer seemed surprised. “That’s a lot of carries,” he said.
And how did he feel about getting the ball so much?
“I’m very tired.”
Liberty eliminated Asotin in a state semifinal last year as well, and the Lancers beat the Panthers earlier this season 21-14.
“It’s hard to beat any team twice, let alone such a great football team,” Dewey said. “I have a ton of respect for their program and the way they do things.”
“It’s a good season, got to get the guys to believe that. It’s hard right now.” Asotin coach Jim Holman said. “It’s almost unfathomable that you can lose to a team that’s your equal. I refuse to believe they are better than us.
“But four wins in a row so they’re doing something we’re not.”
Colton Ball had 115 yards with a touchdown for Asotin. “You can’t describe what he does for us – on both sides of the ball,” Holman said. He’s the kind of kid you build your team around.
“Getting to the semis is great,” Holman continued. “Now we just got to find a way over the top.”
Asotin marched its first possession to the Liberty 6, but Ball’s fourth-down sweep came up short and Liberty took over on downs.
The Lancers used a steady diet of Heer to get out of the shadow of its goalpost. Juwaun Nave then broke a 22-yard gain to move the Lancers out near midfield.
Heer busted through the line to pick up 33 yards down to the Asotin 8 and two plays later he pounded it in from the 2. Asotin jumped offside on the extra-point attempt and Liberty decided to go for two.
Heer went untouched up the middle and Liberty lead 8-0.
Midway through the second quarter, Asotin was driving with the ball at the Liberty 43. Josh Wilkinson tried to find his receiver down the right sideline but defensive back Justin King outjumped the receiver to come down with the interception.
Heer then broke several tackles up the middle to go 40 yards. Liberty moved the ball all the way to the Asotin 2 with just seconds to go in the half.
With no time outs remaining, quarterback Alec Fletcher tried to hurry off another play, but a lineman moved and was called for a false start, ending the half with the Lancers holding an 8-0 lead.
“Right down there at the end of the second quarter if we could have put that in there it would have really helped a lot,” Dewey said. “We had a lot of momentum going. But give (Asotin) credit – they made a big stop and come out in the second half and played really tough football.”
At the start of the third quarter, Asotin used heavy doses of Ball to move into Liberty territory. A 12-yard pass from Wilkinson to Hunter Landrus put the ball at the Lancers’ 18. After a short run and two incomplete passes Asotin settled for an Eli Engledow 32-yard field goal to make it 8-3.
After the kick, Liberty took the ball at its 39. On second-and-9, Fletcher hit Brandon Holling on a crossing route for a 60-yard touchdown catch-and-run, and the Lancers led 15-3 with 6 1/2 minutes in the quarter.
Asotin bounced back. Ball picked up 13 yards, and a late hit added 15 yards to the play. Wilkinson hit Landrus for 13 and Ball went 13 yards to the Liberty 13. Another Wilkinson to Landrus connection took it to the 3, then Ball went off-tackle for the score to make it 15-10 with 1:59 left in the third.
On the next possession, Wilkinson tried to hook up with Landrus again but overthrew. Justin King grabbed the errant throw and took it 30 yards untouched down the far sideline for a touchdown and 21-10 lead with 11 minutes to go.
Asotin moved into Liberty territory again, but the drive stalled and Wilkinson’s fourth-down attempt on a fly pattern went incomplete and the Panthers turned it over on downs with 7:16 left.
The Panthers got the ball back with 4:40 remaining and Wilkinson led an efficient drive to the Liberty 5, where he connected with Tanner Berzett on a slant for a touchdown to make it 21-16. Ball fumbled on the two-point attempt, however, and it stayed a five-point game.
Asotin tried an onside kick but Liberty recovered and ground down out the rest of the clock.
As for the game plan in the state title game, Heer was succinct: “We’re just looking to win.”
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