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Liberty rallies to beat Desert Pines, 35-21

Updated Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011 | 12:12 a.m.

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Liberty senior Jeremy Lagasca returned a Desert Pines failed field goal 92 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half to help spark a 35-21 comeback victory for the Patriots.

Leading 21-14 with three seconds remaining in the half, Desert Pines coach Paul Bennett opted for a 57-yard field goal attempt rather than a Hail Mary pass.

Gustavo Galvan’s kick landed far short of the goal line and Lagasca scooped up the ball and started heading toward the sideline, thinking the play was over.

Liberty coach Rich Muraco, however, knew it was a live ball because the kick did not reach the end zone and screamed at Lagasca to continue running.

Lagasca sprinted down the sideline untouched for the game-tying touchdown.

“I thought it was a dead ball,” Lagasca said. “I caught the ball and all my coaches said run, so I just started running and they called it a touchdown.”

Muraco said the play “really lifted our spirits, and you could tell that they were kind of a little dejected after that...It was really big. You always want that good feeling going into halftime.”

In the second half, the Patriots maintained momentum as the Kapeli brothers — Jordan and Niko — started to take over the game on the ground.

Midway through the third quarter, Liberty senior fullback Jordan Kapeili rushed for a 19-yard touchdown on a call that caught the Jaguars defense off guard to give the Patriots a 28-21 lead.

“We went on a silent count,” Jordan Kapeli said. “When the quarterback stepped out, he didn’t say anything. The defense didn’t see us get off the ball.”

Jordan Kapeli rushed for 87 yards on 12 carries and scored two touchdowns. He also helped pave the way for his younger brother, Niko, who rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown on 31 rushes.

“I just have to thank the linemen that are blocking for me and my brother of course for opening up the holes,” Niko Kapeli said.

Niko Kapeli, a junior with lots of potential, was the Patriots’ workhorse back in the second half.

Clinging to a 28-21 lead, the Patriots took possession of the ball at their own 15-yard line to start the fourth quarter.

Liberty drove the ball 85 yards and took almost six minutes off the clock as Niko Kapeli scored the game-clinching touchdown on a 9-yard run to give the Patriots a 35-21 advantage.

“Niko is a great running back,” Muraco said. “He’s going to have a breakout year this year. This will be his third year starting on varsity, and he’s already our all-time leading rusher. He’s a special back.”

Lagasca sealed the Jaguars’ fate with a late interception to secure the victory for Liberty.

After Desert Pines scored three first half-touchdowns, including an 88-yard run by senior Leon Hayes and a 74-yard burst by sophomore Eric Wilkes, Muraco switched Liberty’s defensive scheme from a 4-4 formation to a 4-3 base.

Changing the defensive alignment worked well as the Jaguars were held scoreless in the second half.

Liberty improved to 1-1 while Desert Pines fell to 0-2.

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