Bethlehem Liberty has a top-notch passer in Anthony Gonzalez, a junior southpaw drawing Division I-A interest from Penn State.
That Gonzalez fired only four passes in yesterday's PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal against North Penn says a lot about the success he and the Hurricanes enjoyed with their ball-control ground attack.
Keeping the Knights' defense on the field for long stretches, Liberty totaled 218 rushing yards on 51 attempts en route to a 21-14 victory at Coatesville High. In the plays-from-scrimmage category, the District 11 champion finished with a 57-35 advantage.
"They were gaining 4 or 5 yards at a clip," North Penn coach Dick Beck said. "They were being patient, sticking to their guns."
Having advanced to the state final for the second time in three seasons, Liberty (14-1) will meet District 7's Bethel Park (15-0) for the title Saturday at 7 p.m. at HersheyPark Stadium. In yesterday's other semifinal, Bethel Park outlasted District 3's Wilson, 38-35, in triple overtime.
Gonzalez, the Lehigh Valley Conference's most valuable player, rushed 19 times for 84 yards and a touchdown. In suffering their first loss of the season, the Knights (14-1) also had trouble stopping rugged fullback Daryl Klotz (19 carries for 70 yards).
"We knew they were going to run the ball," Beck said. "They have a good offensive line that moves you, and their running backs do a good job of finding the holes."
With a smothering 4-3 defense, the Hurricanes held the District 1 powerhouse to 89 yards rushing, 41 on 11 attempts in the first half and 48 on 15 tries in the second.
"We knew they were a great team coming into it," said Tyler Smith, a senior halfback and linebacker for North Penn. "Still, this is a tough pill to swallow."
Liberty, a state runner-up in 2006, took possession first (the Knights deferred after winning the coin flip) and marched 80 yards, on 18 running plays to the end zone. Gonzalez scored from the 1 to cap a series that lasted 9 minutes, 14 seconds.
After North Penn took a 7-6 lead in the second quarter on a 3-yard TD run by Ronnie Akins, the Hurricanes closed the first half with an 11-play, 57-yard scoring drive. On second and goal from the 4, Gonzalez rolled left and, barely avoiding a sack by linebacker Mike Culbreath at the 16, tossed to Pittsburgh-bound wideout Devin Street.
Down by 14-7 at intermission, the Knights quickly forged a deadlock in the third quarter. A 4-yard TD burst off right tackle by Akins (56 yards on 13 carries) capped an eight-play, 73-yard series that was highlighted by two passes, of 40 and 24 yards, from Justin Davey to Smith.
North Penn needed a stop to keep the momentum but could not produce it. Gonzalez engineered another 80-yard, clock-eating drive. On the 12th play, a right-side draw, tailback Brandon Brader (11 carries for 58 yards) darted 18 yards for the winning score.
On Aug. 29, in the opener for both teams, North Penn emerged with a 23-15 road win.
"We're a more mature football team right now," Liberty coach Tim Moncman said. "Even Anthony [Gonzalez]; he's grown up quite a bit since then."
Liberty 6 8 7 0 - 21
North Penn 0 7 7 0 - 14
L: Gonzalez 1 run (kick blocked)
NP: Akins 3 run (McManus kick)
L: Street 4 pass from Gonzalez (Brader pass from Gonzalez)
NP: Akins 4 run (McManus kick)
L: Brader 18 run (Bedoya kick)