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April 27, 2015

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high school football:

Kai Nacua leads Liberty to victory in game between local powers

D.J. Pumphrey’s best efforts not enough for visiting Canyon Springs


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Liberty quarterback Kaimana Nacua falls just short of a touchdown against Canyon Springs during their game Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. Liberty scored on the next play to win the game 23-20.

Liberty vs. Canyon Springs 2012

Liberty quarterback Kaimana Nacua prepares to his Canyon Springs defensive back Stephon Revels during their game Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. Liberty won the game 23-20. Launch slideshow »
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Where's the defense?

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Upset over the outlandish scores posted around the valley last week, Las Vegas Sun sports reporter Ray Brewer loses his sanity on this week's podcast. Co-host Case Keefer tries to stay out of the way during his rant on defense, but has plenty to add on other topics — including impressive games from Arbor View and Bishop Gorman, "the hut drill" and the two highly-anticipated games in Henderson on Friday.

With the Liberty offense slowing down in the middle of Friday’s 23-20 victory over Canyon Springs, all-purpose threat Kai Nacua approached football coach Rich Muraco with a suggestion.

Nacua, a senior captain, wanted to move from quarterback to receiver, a switch the Patriots have made frequently throughout the season.

“I’ve got to play receiver, man,” Nacua recounted telling Muraco. “We’ve got to score.”

Muraco told his three-year starter that wouldn’t be necessary on this night. Nacua could exploit the Pioneers more behind center.

Sometimes coach knows best. Nacua stayed at quarterback for all the meaningful series in the battle between two of the city’s best teams and posted huge results.

The BYU-bound Nacua rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in the victory.

“Kai just proved he’s a Division-I player,” Muraco said. “He made big plays. He’s a weapon.”

Nacua’s prettiest moment came on a third-down late in the first half when he dropped back for a long passing play. Instead of flinging the ball, Nacua tucked it and ran 65 yards for a touchdown to make the score 13-0.

“I saw that they had man, so everyone was downfield and no one was open,” Nacua said. “I looked to see where my holes were and saw the left side of the field was open, so I just started flying.”

Nacua’s most important work, however, came late in the fourth quarter. Despite dominating for most of the night, Liberty found itself trailing Canyon Springs 20-16 for more than half of the final frame.

Pioneers running back Donnel Pumphrey changed the complexion of the contest by scoring on two consecutive times touching the ball. Pumphrey broke loose for a 72-yard scoring run and then returned a punt 47 yards for a touchdown within three minutes in the second half.

“We kind of preached all week that he was a great back, he may break a long run, and you’ve got to respect that,” Muraco said. “But if you can wrap up and hit him hard most of the time, we’ll find success.”

The Liberty defense — led by big performances from Phoenix Uptain, Reno Tu’ufuli and Josh Bernard-Lee — got back to that after Pumphrey’s punt return.

The Patriots forced the Pioneers to punt deep in their own territory twice in a row to gain favorable field position. Nacua made sure it didn’t go to waste.

He took Liberty on its game-winning drive, gaining 41 of the 56 yards on his own feet and crossing the end zone with a 1-yard touchdown.

“We went to the run game today and it was working,” Nacua said.

Nacua benefitted from Canyon Springs' focus on teammate Niko Kapeli, who still managed to rush for 149 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. Kapeli’s touchdown came in the opening minute after Tu’ufuli batted down and intercepted a Pioneers pass on the first play.

Jay Mitchell also had an interception at the 2-yard line in the second quarter, but Kapeli fumbled on the ensuing possession to set up the first of three Pumphrey touchdowns.

A long scoring drive eluded Canyon Springs all night. Nacua, who also starts at safety, said the Patriots played their best defensive game.

Muraco agreed, but only before turning his thoughts back toward Nacua.

“At this level, you can’t say enough about a high school quarterback who has 30-some starts,” Muraco said. “Niko didn’t have his best game — he was a little banged up — but Kai picked it up for us today.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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  1. Hats off to the Pioneers defense! They made some nice adjustments in preparing for our offense. BIG shout out to the Patriot defense becuz they kept us in the game when we were mistake-prone on offense! We really sucked on offense as a unit in this game even though we had some individual play that held us together on O. But a win is a win. It's soooo nice to have a running back who can rush 150 yards in a game when he isnt feeling well and a utility player that can play anywhere on either side of the ball. Special teams needs to get better. It's still so nice to win even when you're having a bad night on the field. Overall, we're going to be in the postseason for sure! Next up...the Rose Bowl! Liberty vs Coronado to lay claim to St Rose Pkwy! hehehe...

  2. Sounds like it was a good game between two of the best teams in the state.

    Even if Liberty had an off night from what it sounds like, it's great to see Canyon compete at this level it will make playoffs fun.

    Statistically looks like Nacua was the game changer he normally is while Kapeli and Pumphrey also did what they are known to do. Both teams played the best defense they'll see the rest of season.

    Dxyl, I think Pumphrey did well. 108 yards isn't bad against the 3rd best defense in the state, plus the punt return yardage. Although it looks like Liberty did limit Pumphrey to only one breakout run as 72 of his 108 yards came on one play. Wish I would have seen it. Kapelie rushed for a few more yards but on double the carries. I think they both did well and are still two of teh best in the state.

    For Canyon Springs the tough away games against Liberty and Palo are going to pay off in the playoffs when that experience will help them.

    Liberty still looks like the second best team in the state and has so many weapons on offense it's hard not to think they're the only team in town with any chance in hell to beat Gorman and the deeper we get into the season the more I can't wait for that possible final between the two.

    Arbor View has a slightly better defense but not near the offensive flexibility that Liberty has. Even though I already would have favored Liberty over Basic by 10-14 points even before last night, after watching Basic struggle with a more physical Green Valley line I just can't see Basic putting up much of a fight over 4 quarters when they play Liberty.

  3. Guru- 3rd best is not stat based just my opinion. I believe It's Gorman, Arbor View then close behind Liberty on best defenses in town. I would put Liberty's offense #2 behind Gorman's. I agree, if Canyon had say- Green Valley's line they'd be Liberty's twin and just as scary as Liberty is.

    I second the motion, when one says "local power" I think that would only apply to established programs like Liberty, Moapa, Palo etc.. where Canyon is definitely a force to be reckoned with this season but they aren't exactly a power based on half a season. But I don't think Keefer meant any disrespect just making a point that it's two of the best in town- which is definitely true.