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May 27, 2016

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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

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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 »
Prep Sports Now

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 case.keefer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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