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August 21, 2014

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high school football:

Liberty proves itself with win over Basic

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Liberty football players Jay Mitchell, Christopher Noone and Phoenix Uptain Thursday, July 26, 2012.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer are pumped up for all the high-stakes games going down Thursday night. But why can't they be played on Friday?

The time had come for Liberty coach Rich Muraco to pick which part of Basic's attack he would try and take away.

Would his team attempt to limit explosive receiver and UNLV target Devonte Boyd or make an effort to slow down electrifying running back Antraye Johnson?

The Patriots managed to quiet Boyd (five catches, 59 yards and a touchdown) by their rolling coverage over to him with double and triple teams, but by doing so it allowed Johnson to run rampant for a large number of gashing runs.

Luckily for Muraco, his team stopped Johnson at the right moments, and the Patriots got a late score from star running back and UNLV commit Niko Kapeli to emerge with a 28-22 victory Friday over the Wolves.

"We felt like them running the ball and eating the clock played into our hands, instead of them being able to throw long and score quick," Muraco said. "If you try and cover them both, they'll both beat you."

The win improves the Patriots to 7-1 and 4-0 in the Sunrise Southeast division. It was the Pats' 21st consecutive division win, and also clinched the league crown.

Kai Nacua had another stellar game. He threw for 150 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran for 120 yards.

"It's my third division title in a row," Nacua said. "It'll be a good experience for those returning underclassmen. They now know how hard it is to win (a division title)."

Nacua, however, wasn't happy with how the defense defended Johnson, who rushed to the tune of 140 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown.

"We didn't stop the run as much as we would like to, but we were able to get it done," he said.

It was Nacua's play in the final two minutes that made the difference. He made a couple of big runs and completed a critical third down play when he found Tevis Labrador for a 21-yard completion. The catch put the Patriots on the Wolves' (6-2, 3-1 conference) four-yard line to set up Kapeli's go-ahead score.

What made the play even more impressive was that Nacua changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Had Kapeli not found the end zone, the game would have gone into overtime.

"I have a lot of faith in Kai," Muraco said. "Kai is a three-year varsity starter. He's been in a lot of big games. We have confidence that he'll make the right call."

Thursday's victory marked the return of Kapeli, who sat out last week's game against Eldorado with a foot injury he suffered against Del Sol two weeks ago. He wasn't at full strength, but still managed 80 yards on 20 caries, including the eventual game-winning score with four seconds to play.

He also caught a pass in the first quarter for a touchdown.

"He's not 100 percent still," Muraco said. "He's limited with (pain) right now. It was a gusty performance by him."

Following the game, Kapeli called his offensive line together, and asked if the media could speak with them instead of him.

Senior Chris Noone stepped up and spoke on behalf of the guys in the trenches.

"We made the blocks and Niko and Kai made the plays," Noone said. "We tried to stick with our blocks, and make plays happen, baby."

For Basic, the game all but validated its spot as one of the valley's premier teams. The Wolves were able to push the Patriots to the limit, and were in prime position to unseat the kings of the Sunrise Southeast division late.

"Everyone said Liberty was going to run us over and that we weren't tough enough," Basic coach Jeff Cahill said. "We proved that we're tough enough. It came down to a few inches. They got those inches and we didn't."

Liberty will go for division win No. 22 against Foothill.

"It's good to keep the (unbeaten) legacy alive," Noone said.

Basic, meanwhile, travels to face Coronado.

Paul Delos Santos can be reached at 990-2416 or [email protected]. Follow Paul on Twitter at twitter.com/pauliedelos.

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  1. Liberty this season has had way too many close calls, we shouldn't be wining by a tread. We are a blow out kind of team. Thursday night showed that you can really get the job done when you need to, there are a lot of great players on this team who need to be utilized evenly "Coach" its not a one man show. Share the wealth coach!!!! As for Kai, JJ and Niko: you all are pure D1 players. Go Patriots!!

  2. I'm sorry, but Liberty always pushes Basic around in the trenches? Last year, Basic did something no other run defense could do, and that was stop Liberty's running attack. The passing attack, on the other hand, has always been something Basic hasn't quite been able to handle, but Basic didn't get pushed around in the trenches last year nor did they this year.