Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 | 2 a.m.
We’ve waited two years for this high school football game. Gorman hosts defending state champion Liberty for the class 5A Southern Region championship and a spot in next week’s state championship game. The last time these schools met Liberty handed Gorman its first local defeat since 2008 in breaking the powerhouse program’s string of 10 straight state titles.
The game had only been over for a few minutes when Bishop Gorman’s Jake Taylor picked up his cellphone. The messages of shock asking what had happened were already too many to count.
The Gorman football team was upset by Liberty in the 2019 regional championship game, ending the Gaels’ streak of 10 straight state championships in an unexpected defeat. They, after all, hadn’t lost to an instate opponent since 2008.
The offensive lineman Taylor immediately began replaying the game in his mind and questioning what he could have done differently. He became emotional when communicating with older brother Beau, a Gorman graduate who plays at UCLA.
“I texted my brother two words, ‘I’m sorry,’” Taylor recalled. “He immediately called me and I was bawling my eyes out.”
Liberty and host Gorman renew their rivalry in the Southern Regional championship at 6 p.m. Friday under massively different circumstances, as Liberty — not powerhouse Gorman — enters with bragging rights and the label as the city’s top program.
The rematch couldn’t happen in 2020 because the pandemic canceled the season, bringing us to Friday night in a game two years in the making.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another matchup in the last 10 years with as much anticipation, as Fertitta Field at Gorman is expected to be at capacity and both sides are preparing for a back-and-forth affair not decided until the fourth quarter. Liberty held Gorman scoreless in the second half of the last meeting and won in overtime.
“This is the kind of atmosphere you want for high school football,” Gorman coach Brent Browner said. “Their side will be full (with fans), our side will be full and there’s going be a great game.”
Taylor has long envisioned how this night would look and feel, knowing it’s the most difficult step in the ultimate goal of leading the Gaels to a state championship. He’s become so consumed with beating Liberty that he estimates watching about 100 hours of game film of the opponent in preparation.
Part of his desire is stewing two years over the loss, which became national news as it ended a dynasty that included three mythical national titles. The other reason for his motivation is the responsibility of bringing a state title to a school that’s near and dear to his family, as his grandmother, mother, uncle and brother are each Gorman graduates.
He grew up playing youth football with many of his Gorman teammates, and realizes Friday will be the last home game with longtime friends like Cam Barfield and JJ Bwire. He also knows Gorman hasn’t lost at home to an instate opponent since its stadium in Summerlin opened in 2007.
“Everything we do is Liberty, Liberty, Liberty,” said Taylor, who is committed to play at Oklahoma. “We are appreciative of what happened (two years ago). Everyone has a hiccup now and then, and now we are out to prove something. … Liberty is a great opponent. I can’t wait to play those guys.”
Gorman (10-1) has been unstoppable since mid-September in recording six consecutive shutouts. Foothill broke the scoreless streak at six games last week with a touchdown, but Gorman still won, 63-6.
Containing the Liberty offense, however, won’t be as easy.
The Patriots have one of the city’s most dynamic players in Germie Bernard, who is committed to Washington and has 46 catches for 820 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also leads the Patriots in rushing and returns all of their kicks. If one player can take over the game, it’s him.
“They have a great team, a whole team of all-league players,” Browner said. “Germie is a great player and also a great young man. Liberty’s got great players on each side of the ball. We have to stay true to who we are on both sides of the ball and minimize the mistakes.”
Liberty, unlike most local teams facing Gorman, enters with plenty of confidence.
Even though the Patriots’ lineup only has four players who participated in the 2019 game, the impact of the upset changed the course of the Liberty program from perennial contender to champion. It’s flipped the mentality from competing with Gorman to beating Gorman.
Liberty (10-1) also has dominated local opponents, winning five of seven games by the mercy rule of the running clock. They played mostly junior varsity players one week because of COVID protocols and still won by 30 points.
“We talk about Gorman all year long so they know this is what we are fighting for and this is what we want,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.
Just like how Gorman’s Taylor can recall the sadness in the moments after the 2019 game, Bernard can detail the celebration that ensued on the Liberty sideline in the moments after Zyrus Fiaseu scored the winning touchdown in overtime. It’s one of those moments so special you can’t wait for it to happen again.
“These are the two best teams in the state. We both have talented players,” Bernard said. “I know everybody in the city wants to see us back on top.”