Bellevue’s Leonard Wolfork got something rare in football: a second chance. And this time, he made sure no one caught him.
The senior lineman recovered his second fumble of the night in the third quarter and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown that sealed Liberty’s first KingCo loss this season. The 24-7 win over the Patriots (6-2, 4-1) also clinched a KingCo 3A title for the Wolverines (8-0, 5-0).
Wolfork recovered his first fumble in the first quarter and returned it 30 yards to the Liberty six-yard line before he was caught from behind. The second time, no one came close.
“I was looking over my shoulders with each step,” Wolfork said. “I just wanted to make sure no one caught me this time.”
Wolfork was playing in just his third game of the season because of injuries to his hip flexor and groin earlier in the season; but he was right in the middle of two plays that helped decide an otherwise closely fought game.
The Patriots held the Wolverines’ rushing attack in check early in the game until Wolfork’s recovery and run gave Bellevue a short field to work with. Running back Eric Nelson charged into the end zone from two yards out just two plays later, giving Bellevue a 7-0 lead after Houston Hubert’s extra point kick.
Nelson rushed 19 times overall, 17 in the first half, for 90 yards. Liberty held Bellevue’s wing-T offense to 195 rushing yards, well under its season average.
Liberty couldn’t move the ball consistently against Bellevue’s defense, as quarterback Trey Wheeler struggled in the first half. He missed on all seven of his pass attempts, lost one fumble and threw an interception to Bellevue senior Jamal Atofau.
But Liberty coach Steve Valach never lost faith in his quarterback.
“I went into the locker room at halftime and said, ‘No. 7, you’re my guy. We’re going to keep playing our game and keep throwing,’” Valach said.
Wheeler came out on the Patriots’ first drive in the second half and looked like a new player. He connected on four passes and led his team on a 58-yard drive. But the drive stalled and Atofau blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt, leaving the Patriots empty handed.
It was the Wolverines’ air attack that stung Liberty in the third quarter. After pounding Liberty by running the ball, quarterback Tommy Castle connected with wide receiver Brayden Van Ackeren for a 69-yard touchdown on a post route.
Liberty scored a fourth-quarter touchdown when Wheeler hit John Kirksey for 27 yards. The sophomore passed for 172 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Senior Joseph Yea led Liberty in rushing, with nine attempts for 56 yards. Richard Crespo caught seven passes for 119 yards.
“They’ve been there, and we’re getting there,” Valach said of Bellevue’s experience. “I don’t think we lacked any belief, it just didn’t work out.
Liberty’s final regular-season game is against Mount Si (5-3, 4-1) on Oct. 31 and will decide second place in the KingCo. By virtue of Mount Si’s victory over Juanita on Oct. 24, Liberty and Mount Si have both clinched spots in the playoffs. Second place in the league will be at stake when the two meet.
Asked about the game against Mount Si, Valach said “It’s always a war with those guys.” The Wildcats’ three losses have come to Eastlake, Bellevue and Issaquah, teams with a combined 22-4 record.