Published Friday, Oct. 22, 2010 | 10:41 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010 | 1:30 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer dissect this week's high school football games. It's a competitive slate of contests highlighted by the Southeast and Northeast divisions crowning champions. The boys disagree on their picks. Listen to hear who you agree with.
Liberty High football coach Rich Muraco remembers the game as if it happened yesterday.
The Patriots were trailing by seven touchdowns late in the first half against perennial league power Foothill when the Foothill quarterback changed the play at the line of scrimmage and threw a touchdown on the last play of the half to extend the lead to more than 50 points.
Outraged that his quarterback changed the play, the Foothill coach raced across the field before heading into the locker room for halftime to apologize for what appeared to be running up the score. The coaching staffs agreed Foothill would run only basic running plays between the tackles the remainder of the game.
Liberty ended up losing 74-0.
“We were just that bad. We couldn’t stop anything,” Muraco said.
Fast-forward seven years.
Liberty, the longtime cellar-dweller of the Henderson-based Southeast Division, has become the league’s most dominating team.
Niko Kapeli and Jordan Kapeli each rushed for two touchdowns Friday night, and the Patriots forced five first-half turnovers in a 28-14 victory against visiting Foothill to capture the Southeast Division title.
The victory capped an undefeated league record for the Patriots (7-1, 6-0) in giving them their first Southeast crown. Last year, Liberty had a winning record and made the playoffs for the first time since the school opened in 2003.
This year, they won’t be satisfied with less than a state title. Talk about a turnaround.
“Hopefully, with a little bit of luck, we’ll keep accomplishing our goals,” said Muraco, a former assistant in his second year as head coach. "We have a lot higher goals than this."
Foothill turned the ball over three times on the first play of a drive in the first quarter, helping the Patriots jump out to an early 14-0 advantage. Liberty also had a drive extended when Foothill was flagged for a roughing the kicker penalty.
“We killed ourselves in the first half,” Foothill coach Marty Redmond said. “We couldn’t keep our defense off the field.”
Liberty put the game out of reach on its first drive of the second half.
Leading 14-7 at halftime, the Patriots received the ball first in the third quarter and went on a 16-play drive that consumed 9 minutes, 15 seconds off the clock. Niko Kapeli capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to increase Liberty’s lead to 21-7.
“I wore them out in the second half with the running plays,” said Niko Kapeli, who added a another 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
On Foothill’s third series, Anthony Morgan interception Riggin and returned in 42 yards to set up an 11-yard touchdown run from Jordan Kapeli on the next play for a 14-0 Liberty lead.
Players say the transition from one of the Las Vegas Valley’s worst teams to one of the best can be credited to more than the Patriots’ performance on the field.
“It’s our team chemistry. We all play together and have each others’ back,” said senior defensive end Sam Tai, one of the top college prospects in town and Liberty’s unquestioned leader.
The Patriots play a non-league game next week against Cimarron-Memorial before opening the Sunrise Regional playoffs Nov. 5 as the No. 1 seed from the Southeast.
That’s a far cry from those lopsided defeats.
“That’s a real good football team. They have some big dudes over there,” Redmond said.
Foothill (8-1, 4-1) lost for the first time this year. It closes the regular season Oct. 28 against Coronado and will host the loser of the Canyon Springs-Desert Pines contest Nov. 4 in the Sunrise Regional quarterfinals.
Riggin had touchdown passes to Mikie Charlton and Darius Gates.