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December 1, 2021

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Running game helps lift Liberty over Durango


Amanda Finnegan

Liberty celebrates its win over Durango at home on Friday night. Liberty won, 35-7.

Durango at Liberty

The Patriots danced the Haka, a traditional Polynesian war dance, before Friday night's game against Durango. Launch slideshow »

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In a battle of contrasting offensive styles Friday at Freedom Field, Liberty High's smash-mouth running attack won out over Durango High's no-huddle spread offense as the Patriots controlled the clock and the ball in a 35-7 win.

Even without leading running back Shawn Murray — held out to keep him healthy for next week's showdown against rival Silverado — Liberty racked up 379 yards on the ground and had possession of the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half, rolling out to a 21-0 lead at the break.

"He's 100 percent ready to go. He could have went tonight," LHS coach Lou Markouzis said of Murray, who injured his right ankle the previous week against Valley High. "That was just kind of a game-time decision. We just thought, 'Hey, let's not take any chances. Let's get him 100 percent.' He was cleared on Tuesday to full practice, but we just said, 'You know what, let's just hold him out.' We thought that, with our preparations, with moving some (junior varsity) guys up, we would be able to take care of Durango and luckily we were able to tonight."

Two of those younger players who had increased roles against Durango were Ty Berg and freshman running back Jordan Kapeli. The two combined for 155 yards on 19 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge for Kapeli that was the final mark of the Patriots' first-half dominance.

"It was exciting," Kapeli said of his first varsity game. "I was nervous at first, but after a while I got the hang of it and just started having fun with it."

Along with a running game that helped Liberty (2-1) keep the ball for 18 minutes, 25 seconds in the first half, a staunch defense held Durango (1-2) to minus 4 total yards of offense and no first downs before intermission. That solid play was despite many of the Patriots playing both offense and defense and rarely getting a rest, thanks to the Trailblazers' no-huddle scheme.

"We take a significant amount of pride in conditioning with our kids," Markouzis said. "We made it a point this year in the offseason that we were going to be the most conditioned team out on the field. We hired a conditioning coach. His sole purpose is to condition the kids and organize them. That paid dividends right now."

Liberty led 21-0 at halftime after scoring on three of its five possessions. A 16-play opening drive ended with a turnover on downs, but Carlos Tautoto gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead with a 9-yard run after a three-and-out by the Trailblazers. Durango's next three drives also were of the three-and-out variety, and two were followed by rushing touchdowns — a 16-yard run by Ian Jackson and Kapeli's score with just more than 30 seconds left.

Going into the locker room at halftime with a lead wasn't new to the Patriots, as they had led the Vikings by a touchdown at the break last week. However, Valley returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown and went on to outscore Liberty 28-6 in the quarter en route to a 48-38 victory. The Vikings also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, putting the game out of reach.

With special attention given to special teams during practice the past week, Liberty stopped Durango's Julio Mora for just a 17-yard gain on the second-half kickoff, keeping the momentum with the Patriots.

"The biggest point of emphasis, this whole week, was perfect special teams," Markouzis said. "No mental breakdowns. Don't take special teams lightly. We wanted to make sure special teams are as important as the offensive or defensive side. That was extremely emphasized this week."

Durango threatened to get on the scoreboard twice in the third period, but Romell Maxwell was stopped on a fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line and Chase Roberts threw incomplete on fourth down on the Trailblazers' next possession.

Jackson followed that incomplete pass with a 20-yard touchdown run — set up by a 51-yard run by Berg — and Michael Reveles finished off Liberty's scoring with a 31-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

Roberts found Keiffer Moreno for a 59-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing drive, but it was too little, too late.

Tautoto finished with 85 yards on 14 carries, and Reveles had game highs of 20 carries and 115 yards. Robert Gilliland was 3-of-5 passing for 53 yards for the Patriots, and Anthony Norris caught two passes for 47 yards.

Mora led Durango with 28 rushing yards, while Roberts was 10-of-23 passing for 164 yards. Moreno caught four passes for 76 yards and Anthony Ramirez had 58 receiving yards on four catches.

For many teams, a 28-point win the week after being on the wrong end of a come-from-behind victory would be reason to celebrate. With league play starting next week against the rival Skyhawks, though, the Patriots were all business after Friday's game.

"All in all, the kids played real well, but we're not satisfied because, hey, we're playing Silverado," Markouzis said. "They're ranked what, third or fourth in the state? We've got to be on our 'A' game and we can't afford to make any mistakes at all if we're going to have an opportunity to beat them on their own field, that's for sure."

Markouzis, who has been at Liberty since it opened in 2002, isn't the only Patriot who's been looking forward to next week's game for a long time.

"I can't wait for that one," Kapeli said. "I've been waiting since sixth grade."

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