Liberty dominates in 1st Pat Tillman Classic

By: 
DARRELL JACKSON, Staff Writer

Photos by Darrell Jackson
Peoria Liberty (ABOVE) and Leland (Calif.) Chargers (BELOW) captains showcase the honorary jerseys worn during the first Pat Tillman Classic Sept. 14 at Liberty High School.

Hosting the first Pat Tillman Classic, Liberty and Leland San Jose, Calif., high school football teams played a game that honored the late Arizona Cardinals player who graduated from Leland in 1994.

Liberty continued its dominance on the field, cruising to a 56-7 victory over Leland in front of a standing-room-only crowd Sept. 14 at Liberty High School.

The Lions have now outscored their opponents 181-64 through their first five games.

During the Pat Tillman classic, each player had Tillman as the name across the back of his jersey with the Liberty students also donating $3,100 to the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides academic scholarships to military members and their spouses.

Leland has held a game in honor of Tillman each year since his death and traveled to Arizona to be the competitor against Liberty in Arizona’s first Tillman Classic.

The game was a way for the school to honor military members, police and firefighters, and was a way to honor the former Cardinal who left football after 9/11 to join the military and later died in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan in 2004.

Liberty head coach Mark Smith told his team to prepare for the game as if it were the most important game of the season, pointing to Leland’s 11-2 record, and section championship game loss last season as motivation.

“We were not taking them lightly,” Smith said. “We were going to play this game like it was a state qualifying tournament game, because that’s who we’re playing. We’re playing a playoff team from last year that went to their final game of the year. So, to have that result is a little shocking to me, but you know, our kids come ready to play, and I’m really proud of them for their effort and their attitude tonight.”

As the two teams took the field, the Liberty captains carried the flags of each military branch, along with the United States flag, to the cheers of the crowd.

When the game kicked off, it was all Lions, as the defense was dominant, holding the Chargers to negative 15 yards rushing and 20 total yards on offense.

The Liberty starters pushed the halftime lead to 42-0, which forced a running clock in the second half, as the Lions pulled the starters.

Jett Kinsch rushed 77 yards and three touchdowns while Jake Morris rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown as the Lions totaled 252 rushing yards as a team. Starting quarterback Jonah Guevara threw for 59 yards and a touchdown while backup quarterback Brock Mast threw for 58 yards and a touchdown.

But the event was more than a game, as the two teams honored Tillman and the men and women of the military and public safety who were in attendance.

“It means a lot to wear his name on our back and go out there with that same passion and ferocity and love for the game that he had,” Leland senior running back Parker Peterson said. “The game was tough for us, but we are going into the season happy and you just have to play like Tillman did.”

Leland senior defensive end Borna Ebadat agreed, adding, “We’ve had Pat Tillman’s teammates talk to us and they always tell us stories about how hard he played and that gives each of us a reason to play harder.”

Both coaches added they would like to see more Tillman Classic games, hoping to build the event into four games between four Arizona schools and four out-of-state schools. Ultimately, they said they would like to see the games played at ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium or the Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium, or when traveling to Northern California, in a college stadium there or in the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium.

“We honor Pat in our little game, close-knit community thing, but to come down here and to help you guys try to build it, because I know what his presence was here and still is here, it’s awesome for me, for us, to be a part of it,” Leland head coach Mike Ward said. “He was a special player and person and he means a lot to many people in both places.”

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Peoria Times

Peoria Times
7122 N. 59th Ave
Glendale, AZ 85301-2436
Ph: (623) 842-6000
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