Friday, Nov. 11, 2011 | midnight
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer disagree on the Liberty vs. Las Vegas matchup for the same reasons as last year. They come to a consensus on the rest of the games, but also break down the matchups.
Despite how it may appear, the Liberty coaches didn’t accidentally issue a No. 12 jersey to two different players.
It’s just that sometimes Kai Nacua does so many different things on the gridiron that it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. The junior is not an ordinary starting quarterback.
The Patriots also rely on Nacua to play almost every snap on defense. He’s the lead blocker on most of Liberty’s pitch plays. And he could do even more if needed, according to Liberty coach Rich Muraco.
“He’s our best receiver, no question,” Muraco said.
Nacua showcased his full set of skills in a 44-28 victory over Las Vegas High Thursday night. The win sends Liberty to a rematch with Foothill in the Sunrise Region championship game next Friday. It’s the second straight year the Patriots have reached the game after never making it that far in the program’s first eight years.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Nacua said.
Nacua had plenty to be proud of Thursday. He was one of the sparks who led Liberty to score 38 unanswered points out of halftime to break a 7-7 tie.
The fourth score of that stretch came when Nacua intercepted Las Vegas quarterback Hasaan Henderson and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. It came moments after he helped set up an offensive touchdown for the Patriots with a 60-yard completion to junior running back Niko Kapeli.
None of Nacua’s passes hit the grass against the Wildcats, as he went 6-for-6 for 130 yards and a touchdown.
“I knew they were going to bite on the runs,” Nacua said. “I knew that when we had a chance to pass, I had to be on point.”
Liberty’s opponents are understandably preoccupied with stopping the run because of Kapeli, one of the best rushers in the city. Kapeli went off for his second game of more than 300 yards and seventh of more than 200 this season against Las Vegas.
Kapeli finished with 40 carries for 310 yards and three touchdowns with 78 receiving yards tacked on top.
“Niko’s phenomenal,” Nacua said. “He tries to put the team on his back. I try to, too. I try to even it out a little bit, so he’s not overwhelmed.”
Liberty needed to lean on Nacua’s and Kapeli’s leadership all it could Thursday after a first half that didn’t go as expected. The Patriots fumbled four times in the opening 24 minutes.
Although they lost only one of them, the fumble problem halted three different drives. The Liberty defensive front — led by Skye Hesia, Kimo Seau and Jordan Kapeli — kept the team in the game by limiting Las Vegas’ offensive effectiveness.
But Henderson — who finished 18-for-25 for 194 yards passing and had 39 rushing yards — did find favorite target Miguel Cerrintino for a 29-yard touchdown to go up 7-0. Cerrintino had six catches for 134 yards.
Liberty answered when Nacua hit Dakota Mayer in stride for a 45-yard touchdown. Muraco sensed his team was nervous with the game tied, though, and cautioned them to calm down in the locker room.
“They’re a great team,” Muraco said of Las Vegas, “but we weren’t executing all the way.”
The offense came along to execute arguably its best all season in the second half. Nacua says the Patriots are “unstoppable” when both he and Kapeli are at the top of their games.
“The whole key to our offense is being able to pass,” Muraco said. “If we have no threat to pass, then teams can put 11 people in the box. We’ve developed some nice passing plays to where they have to keep two or three guys back.”