Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 | 11:53 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer get their wish — Palo Verde and Bishop Gorman meeting on the local high school football gridiron. The boys will take a look at the this game, and also discuss the Sunrise Regional finals between Liberty and Foothill.
The Liberty High football team rallied back from a 13-point first-quarter deficit to defeat Foothill, 37-35, Friday in the Sunrise Regional final to advance to the state semifinals for a second consecutive year.
“It’s a great feeling to know how hard these kids have worked and the last two years it has paid off with regional championships,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.
The Patriots made two miscues in the first quarter, which led to consecutive Foothill touchdowns to take an early 13-0 lead.
On Liberty’s opening possession of the game, the Patriots lost a fumble as junior running back Niko Kapeli was unable to secure the ball on a toss play.
On Foothill’s ensuing possession, wide receiver Kyle Keplinger scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead.
It appeared as if Keplinger was going to be tackled for a large loss on the end-around play but the senior busted through multiple Liberty tackle attempts to find the end zone.
Foothill took advantage of a Liberty roughing-the-passer penalty on third down on its next possession to set up Keplinger’s second rushing touchdown of the opening quarter.
After spotting Foothill an early 13-point advantage, Liberty quickly responded with a two-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 69-yard touchdown run from senior fullback Jordan Kapeli.
Liberty took the lead for good on its next possession when junior quarterback Kai Nacua busted free for a 65-yard touchdown run on an option quarterback keeper to give the Patriots a 14-13 lead.
Liberty took advantage of a Foothill turnover midway through the second quarter to cap off 21 unanswered points for the Patriots.
On the first play following a Foothill lost fumble, Liberty drew up a play-action fake and Nacua hit senior tight end Dakota Mayer on a post route for a 35-yard score.
Nacua picked up a 20-yard rush and a 35-yard completion on Liberty’s final possession of the half to set up an Austin Fitzgerald 27-yard field goal with three seconds left to give the Patriots a 24-19 halftime lead.
Liberty took its largest lead of the game on an 18-yard touchdown run by Niko Kapeli in the third quarter to hand the Patriots a 30-19 advantage.
The Patriots’ defense came up big in the third quarter as they held Foothill’s high-octane offense to one first down on four possessions.
The Falcons kept it close in the fourth quarter as Doxtator hit Morris for a 22-yard touchdown with 8:34 remaining to trim the deficit to 30-27.
Morris leaped over two Liberty defenders in the back of the end zone to haul in his second touchdown of the evening.
The Patriots immediately responded as Nacua broke free for a 76-yard run on an option quarterback keeper on the first play of their ensuing possession.
“It was an option so I knew they were going to try to go after Jordan because we had been giving him the ball a lot,” Nacua said. “When I saw the opportunity to pull it, the offensive line made a giant hole and I just ran through it.”
Niko Kapeli scored two plays later to give the Patriots the game-winning score.
Doxtator connected with Keplinger for his third touchdown of the game on Foothill’s final possession of the night, but Liberty recovered the onside kick attempt and ran out the clock to capture the Sunrise Regional championship.
The Patriots will face two-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman High next Saturday at 1 p.m. at Rancho High School in the state semifinals.
The Gaels advanced to the state semifinals with a 35-7 victory over Palo Verde Friday at Fertitta Field.
“We’ve been waiting to play them. Last year we were hoping to play them and now we have the opportunity,” Nacua said.