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high school football:

Liberty schedules games with powers in California, Arizona for next two years

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Liberty coach Richard Muraco yells to his players during their game against Canyon Springs Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. Liberty won the game 23-20.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer catch up on all the high school basketball action. They discuss who's the favorite to win the Sunrise region and peek forward to Gorman vs. Centennial.

The Liberty High football team has been a Las Vegas-area power the past two seasons. Starting next year, coach Rich Muraco will put his team in position to make a splash nationally.

The Patriots’ nonconference schedule the next two seasons will feature games against tough out-of-state competition, including a home-and-home series against Arizona state champion Hamilton. Hamilton, which has won four of the past five large-school Arizona state championships, will play Sept. 20 at Liberty. In 2014, Liberty will play at the Chandler, Ariz., school.

Liberty in 2013 also will play at Centennial High of Corona, Calif., which finished last fall ranked No. 17 by maxpreps.com after advancing to the CIF championship game.

“We wanted to give our kids the experience to go and have those games against California teams, and teams from out-of-state, to feel what it is like (playing on a big stage) and to challenge them,” Muraco said.

In addition to the game at Hamilton in 2014, Liberty also likely will travel to Hawaii for a game against Mililani High of Honolulu. And, in 2014 and '15, Muraco said he is close to arranging a home-and-home series with respected Southern California power Long Beach Poly.

Last fall, Liberty lost 42-28 to Crespi High of the Orange County area, using the game as a springboard to a season that produced the best playoff run in school history. The game with Crespi was closer than the final score indicates, giving Liberty confidence for the rest of the season in its run to the state championship game. Crespi wound up ranked in the top 10 in California.

“We played right with them. We felt real good after the game,” Muraco said. “Our style of football matches up well against California schools. They are more finesse, and we play physical. That game showed us we aren’t far off in competing against the California schools.”

Liberty was soundly defeated, 63-10, by four-time Nevada state champion Bishop Gorman in the title game. The defeat, where Gorman was more physical in dominating the line of scrimmage and taking Liberty out of its running game, has been a source of motivation in the offseason.

“They were just bigger and stronger and more physical than us on the offensive and defensive lines,” Muraco said. “We knew their defensive line was really good, and we were hoping we could match up with them. But they handled us up front and took us out of what we wanted to do offensively.”

Gorman has played several out-of-state opponents the past four seasons in becoming a national power. Last year, they beat Servite of California and Our Lady of Good Counsel of Maryland to finish ranked. No. 8 by rivals.com. Next year, Gorman’s schedule will include games with Servite, Bergen Catholic of New Jersey and Santa Margarita of California — each nationally respected foes.

If Muraco has his wishes, that term also will be used to describe his program — which is 41-11 since Muraco took over in 2009 — in the near future.

“We have been real up front with the kids,” he said. “We have kind of preached to them our goals and where we want to take the program and how we want to make some noise on the national scene. They are excited. At the same time, they know we have to work hard and stay committed.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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