Updated February 26, 2022 - 8:50 pm
RENO — Josh Jefferson and Dedan Thomas sat in chairs on the Liberty bench with gold medals dangling from their necks, taking in the scene while their teammates celebrated all around them.
The Patriots had just stunned Bishop Gorman 63-62 in overtime Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center in the Class 5A boys state basketball championship game, ending the Gaels’ nine-year run of titles and their bid for an undefeated season.
Liberty lost to Bishop Gorman three times this season, but those games weren’t what Jefferson was thinking about. His memories went back to 2020, when Gorman edged Liberty 61-59 on a buzzer beater in the regional semifinals, ending the Patriots’ bid to reach the state tournament.
“I revisited what happened my sophomore year. I didn’t want that to happen again,” Jefferson said. “I wanted to take a deep breath to take it all in.”
Thomas finished with 20 points, and Jefferson added 16 points and seven rebounds, but his worst nightmare almost came true again.
Gorman cut the Liberty lead to one on John Mobley’s 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left in overtime. After a timeout, Gorman’s Ryan Ableman stole the inbounds pass and put up a shot, but it missed as the buzzer sounded and the Patriots flooded the floor in celebration.
“Just wow, this feeling is surreal,” said Thomas, a sophomore. “I’ve never felt something like this. To feel this moment is amazing.”
It’s the second time in three years a Gorman dynasty has been interrupted by Liberty. The Gaels had won 10 straight state football championships before a 30-24 overtime loss to the Patriots, who went on to win their first title.
Mobley led the Gaels (30-1) with 19 points, and Darrion Williams added 18 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and four assists.
Liberty (22-4) was determined not to play the Gaels’ game and slowed the tempo. That kept Gorman from wearing down the Patriots and going on the type of extended run that would put the game away.
“They controlled the tempo a little bit. We want to play a little faster,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “That kept the score down, to their credit. They did a good job, but we had our chances.”
The Gaels threatened to take control in the third quarter, as they did in last week’s Southern Region championship game that they won 77-61.
They went on an 8-0 run and led 45-37 after the third quarter on Mobley’s 3-pointer with time winding down.
Unlike last week, the Patriots didn’t panic.
“Last week, we kind of quit a little bit,” Liberty coach Kevin Soares said. “This time, there was no quit. Angelo (Kambala) made a couple big 3s to get us right back in the game down by two. That two looks a lot better than the eight they had gotten it to.”
Kambala scored eight of his nine points in the fourth quarter and overtime. His first 3-pointer in the fourth made it a 47-45 Gorman lead, and he made another to make it a 54-50 game with 2:59 left after Gorman had stretched the margin to seven.
Jefferson scored the final six points in regulation for the Patriots, including a turnaround jumper with 38 seconds left that tied the score at 56. Gorman played for one shot, and Williams missed a contested layup.
Liberty rebounded, and Andre Porter was ahead of the pack for a wide-open layup. But the referees ruled that the basket came after the buzzer, forcing overtime.
Thomas made a jumper and Kambala a layup to open overtime, and the Patriots never trailed again, though the Gaels twice made it a one-point game.
“Everybody was betting against us, so we just wanted to prove everyone wrong,” Thomas said.