Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Published Friday, Oct. 1, 2010 | 11 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 | 2:11 a.m.
Palo Verde hosts Cheyenne in a Thursday night game between two traditional Northwest powers. The Panthers have looked nearly invincible while starting the season 5-0, but could the Desert Shields give them a scare in this rivalry game?
Sam Tai only knows one way to make a comeback — with a bang.
Actually, to be more specific, make that a block. Tai, senior defensive end at Liberty and one of the Las Vegas area’s top recruits, returned from an injury and played his first game of the season Friday night against Basic. He transformed the game from a battle to a 42-7 Liberty blowout when he blocked a punt late in the third quarter.
“Sitting on those sidelines for the past couple games has made me hungry for every game,” Tai said. “I’ve just been building it up.”
Tai’s blocked punt came when Liberty led only 14-7 with a minute left in the third quarter and gave it the ball at Basic’s 25-yard line.
Two plays later, Jordan Kapeli rushed for a 19-yard touchdown. The Patriots scored on each of their three drives in the fourth quarter to punish a Wolves team they were tied with at halftime.
“The second half feels great, not the first,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “I guess I have to change up my pregame speech to the kids, because they came out flat two weeks in a row now during big games. I basically almost had an aneurysm yelling at them at halftime and they came out fired up in the second half.”
After Basic (4-2) moved the ball on Liberty (4-1) at will in the first half, it could barely muster a first down in the second. Muraco said part of the turnaround could be attributed to the Patriots switching from zone to man coverage at halftime.
But it was also evident that Tai was getting more comfortable on the field as the game progressed. He recorded a sack in the second half and rushed Basic quarterback Vince Carducci into at least four other incompletions.
“I was just so excited to come out,” Tai said. “I wanted to make an impact on this game and that’s what I did.”
“We’re a second-half team and we come out fired up after halftime,” Tai said. “That’s how we win games.”
Basic could have easily led after the first half. The Wolf Pack twice drove inside the Patriots five-yard line and came away with no points.
DeVonte Boyd dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Carducci threw an interception on third-and-goal from the 2.
“It would have been different if we score,” Basic coach Jeff Cahill said. “It snowballed on us there and they’re a good team. If you give a good team chances, that’s what happens.”
Basic’s touchdown came in the second quarter when Carducci, who went 11-for-25 for 143 yards, hit Dominic Villas with an 11-yard touchdown pass. Liberty scored in the first quarter when sophomore Kai Nacua rocketed a 42-yard touchdown pass to senior Austin Etheridge in the end zone.
Nacua had 91 yards and two touchdowns through the air, but was only 4-for-11.
“Every week, he’s maturing and developing,” Muraco said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to that point where we can be more of a balanced team. That’s my goal as a coach. I don’t want to be a 90 percent run team.”