Stephen R. Sylvanie/Special to the Sun
Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 | 5:53 p.m.
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It's the game everyone expected for the state championship — Bishop Gorman vs. Liberty. Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer play oddsmaker and try to set the appropriate line on the game. They settle on Gorman -25, with opinions split on which team covers at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday.
- State championship live blog: Gorman wins fourth straight title
- Bishop Gorman’s football dynasty by the numbers
- This game against Bishop Gorman will be much different for Liberty
- A state championship win Saturday would put Bishop Gorman in exclusive company
- State championship picks
- Liberty makes quick work of Coronado for Sunrise title, has confidence it can compete next week against Gorman
- Gorman weathers valiant effort from Reed, advances to face Liberty in state title game
- State or bust: Liberty hopes the third time is a charm in state semifinals
- High school football section
Seconds before halftime Saturday in the Division-I high school football state championship game against Liberty at Sam Boyd Stadium, Solomon connected on a short pass to tight end Alize Jones. Jones did the rest in outracing the Liberty defense for a 78-yard touchdown and 18-point Gorman lead at the break.
The completion gave Solomon more than 10,000 passing yards for his four-year career. He would finish with 199 yards and four touchdowns, leading Gorman to its fourth straight state championship with a convincing 63-10 victory.
Ryan Smith, another four-year starter for Gorman, hauled in three passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, and he added a touchdown pass to Jones on a fake field goal on the Gaels’ first drive of the second half to essentially put the game out of reach
Make no doubt about it, the Gorman dynasty of the past four years with Solomon and Smith leading the charge is arguably the best in state history. After all, Gorman became the first school since Reno High in the 1950s to win four consecutive championships.
But by no means is Gorman’s dominance going to end without Solomon, Smith and other mainstays during the championship seasons graduating. The Gorman cupboard, as witnessed in the victory, will be far from bare.
Randall Cunningham Jr., Solomon’s backup, rushed for a 19-yard touchdown run with 4:53 to play to close the scoring as Gorman finished with 49 unanswered points. Jones, an athletic 6-foot-3, 205-pound tight end, is a sophomore and a likely blue-chip Division I college recruit.
And, of course, there is Nate Starks.
The junior rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns on five carries in the first quarter alone, finishing with 160 yards to cap his breakout campaign. He already has scholarship offers from the likes of Oklahoma and Texas, and he should combine next year with Cunningham, Jones and the others to make Gorman again the favorite to win the state championship.
“It’s a moment in history right now with the four-peat,” said Starks, who had scoring runs of 33 and 25 yards in the first quarter to give Gorman the lead for good. “I’m just so grateful to be part of the team and have the coaches I do. We come out and grind and don’t take anything for granted. (Next year), we just have to keep working hard on the field and in the weight room, and the best will come again in the end.”
While Gorman will have more than its share of talented players with experience ready to step into the starting lineup, it won’t be easy replacing the likes of Solomon, even when he isn’t at his best.
Against Liberty, the Arizona-committed quarterback misfired on his initial three passes, including one for an interception, and didn’t have a pass completion until 3:33 before halftime. However, he wouldn’t be denied, completing four passes for 131 yards to close the half, including a 35-yard touchdown to Smith and the long hookup with Jones.
“Our kids, they have just done a fantastic job,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “You look over the years, and any time we have played a big game, our kids have really stepped up. They have never not competed in a big game. We have lost four games (in the past four years) and all are against (out-of-state) teams that have won state championships.”
Gorman closed like you would expect a four-time state champion to in the second half, scoring on all five of its possessions and holding Liberty scoreless.
The Gaels opened the half by draining six minutes off the clock with a long scoring drive, which was capped by Smith’s touchdown pass to Jones on the fake field goal. Liberty fumbled on the initial play of the ensuing possession and Solomon made the Patriots pay by connecting with Jamir Tillman for a 9-yard touchdown and a 42-10 lead.
The touchdowns were less than 90 seconds apart. The Patriots, the three-time Sunrise Region champs who last year twice had first-half leads against Gorman in losing by only 20 points, couldn’t mount a comeback.
Niko Kapeli, Liberty’s all-time leading rusher who had more than 200 total yards against Gorman last year, had just one yard on 13 carries. Kai Nacua, Liberty’s versatile quarterback who doubles at wide receiver, was limited to two receptions for 26 yards and negative rushing yards with sacks. He passed for about 70 yards and had a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but for the first time this year, he couldn’t take over the game.
“I thought early on we played well,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “We came out, and we were fired up and ready to play. There are so many momentum swings in a game. I tried to tell the kids before the game that it is not always going to go their way, and there will be highs and lows, but you have to keep believing and keep the intensity when things go poorly.
“But it kind of got out of hand there in the second half. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t play as well as we would have liked today.”
Liberty still had momentum early in the third quarter when it stopped Gorman inside the the 10-yard line to force a short field goal attempt. With the Patriots trailing by 18 points, a Gorman field goal would have kept it a three-score game.
Then, Smith had one of his finest moments as a Gael. A holder on field goals, he took the snap and threw a perfect pass to Jones for a back-breaking touchdown.
“If we came out and played well, I knew we could win another one,” said Smith, who finished his career with a large-school division record 3,208 receiving yards. “They key was settling down and playing our game, and that is what we did.”
Next year, it will be someone else’s turn to add to the Gorman legacy. Judging by Saturday, it’s a dynasty that is far from finished.
“All of our kids bought into the success we were going to have a group,” Sanchez said. “They know individual accomplishment will come through team effort. The great thing about it is, you look at our sideline and the whole team from last year is here. The team from two years ago is here. They have the expectation to continue the tradition.”