which Bethlehem Liberty team was the best among their state finalists?

BradlyPitt

Well-Known Member
Jan 26, 2022
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2005?
2006?
2008?

they won the state in 2008 but was that really their best team or did they just have an easier opponent in Bethel Park?
 

RoverNation05

Well-Known Member
Aug 22, 2010
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You're baiting me, huh?

It's kind of a complicated answer. The 2008 Liberty team had the best top end of any of those teams - there aren't very many seasons where a public school has four players that ended up in NFL camps - Devin Street played multiple years with the Cowboys, Levi Brown spent a season with the Ravens, then Anthony Gonzalez and Jarrod West both were in training camps, but got cut by the Steelers and Patriots, respectively. That's both of your receivers (Street and West) your quarterback (Gonzalez) your left tackle (Brown), plus on defense your nose guard (Brown) and 3/4ths of your secondary (West at corner, Street and Gonzalez as the two safeties). However, that team did not have the depth of the other two. Horvin Latimer made some all state teams at middle linebacker and had a nice career at Duquesne, Brandon Brader was a tough high school running back, but not a game breaker. But Gonzalez was incredible in the playoff run on both sides of the ball and Brown and the offensive line dominated when they had to.

Which brings us to the two Persa teams. The best individual high school player on any of those three teams was 2006 Dan Persa. He was the first 2,000/1,000 quarterback in Pennsylvania history. He pretty much single handedly won their semifinal game against Pennsbury (30 carries for 120 yards/161 yards passing, four total touchdowns, ten tackles on defense). He did the same thing in the D11 finals against Easton, who probably had the better all around team that year (12-2 with their only losses to Liberty, pitched 8 shutouts and beat then state #1 Parkland in the semifinal before Liberty), but Persa put Liberty on his back in both wins over the Red Rovers. Akeem Smith was a really good running back (a junior who went on to play linebacker at Temple). But those were really their only next level guys, other than Street and Brown who both played as sophomores. I couldn't tell you who the Liberty receivers were on that team. I actually think the 2004 team that lost in the D11 finals to Easton may have been a better team, except for the fact it was sophomore Persa vs. senior Persa - who is one of the best high school quarterbacks I've seen.

So I'd go with 2005 as being their best team. Persa was a junior and threw something like 25 touchdowns to 2 picks going into the state finals. Charles Irvin was one of those mythical high school running backs who shows up for one year, averages 11 yards per carry, then is an academic non-qualifier and just disappears into the ether. They had a pair of FCS receivers in Andrew Lee and Oscar Riveras (Towson and New Hampshire) who also were key pieces of the secondary (Lee was All State at safety). Linebacker Rich Jernigan (Delaware) and defensive end Mike McClarin (Navy) were other D1 guys on defense. But the thing that both was their biggest weapon and biggest downfall was middle linebacker/fullback Andres Morales. He was Ray Rice's fullback at Rutgers and a dominant high school linebacker - he finished the year with 149 tackles and 12 sacks as a 6'3 245 middle linebacker. But he got ejected from the Eastern Final against North Penn for throwing a punch in a fumble pile-up, so he was suspended for the state title game. What I actually think was the real problem was not just his suspension, but the fact that Liberty fought and litigated it all week, up to the point of having a hearing with the PIAA appealing the suspension on the morning of the state championship game. Morales was their best non-QB player, and also the absolute heart and soul of that team emotionally. I think they were in a daze without him, plus the terrible distraction and uncertainty of appealing that suspension all week, and they got run over like a freight train in the finals when they weren't ready. Does that mean they beat McKeesport - probably not? But I bet they play a much better game.
 

RoverNation05

Well-Known Member
Aug 22, 2010
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No, I’m an Easton guy. But Easton and Liberty border each other and have been playing since the 1890s.

At the time that was the rivalry in-conference here. They combined to go 23-3 in 2004, with Easton going to state semis and giving Liberty two close losses in the regular season and D11 title game - a 14-7 classic that is one of the most tense games I’ve ever seen, with Easton scoring on a blocked punt and a 65 yard scoop and score. In 2005, Liberty was the big preseason favorite, but Easton beat them in the regular season 28-21 on a 75 yard pass play in final minutes. Easton wasn’t that good that year, but played out of their minds that night, and Liberty returned the favor 42-10 in the D11 finals. In 2006, they were both top 5 teams in the state, with Easton’s only two losses coming to Liberty, who was the only team to score more than 10 points on them all year. That was a really great stretch of games between two fun and physical programs in that era.

Liberty in 2007 was also very good - Gonzalez was a sophomore, Akeem Smith was really the star on offense and they had Brendan Beal transfer in from Jersey as a borderline five star linebacker who went to Florida. But they got upset by Hazleton in D11 semis in overtime when future Chiefs fullback Nate Eachus went nuts for over 300 yards (who had 280ish the week before in an OT win over Easton). Hazleton lost to Parkland the next week on a blocked field goal, and Parkland is ended up in state finals that year.

That’s a long way of saying, I watched a lot of Liberty football in that era, and news coverage around here was all over them. The Andres Morales story in particular was huge here, and I think either wasn’t known or had largely been forgotten statewide. That was also in a really good stretch for D11 football as a contender at the state level.
 

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