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May 21, 2019

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high school football:

Liberty downs Del Sol after star tailback Kapeli goes down with injury

Liberty vs. Canyon Springs 2012

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Liberty running back Niko Kapeli shoves away Canyon Springs defensive back A.J. Cooper during their game Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. Liberty won the game 23-20.

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If Liberty High football coach Rich Muraco wanted to see how some of his second-string players would react to game situations, he got to see plenty of it against Del Sol on Friday.

Liberty running back and UNLV commit Niko Kapeli suffered an apparent foot injury during the Patriots’ first offensive series, opening the door for other players to pick up carries.

Senior Jaylen Mitchell stepped in for Kapeli, rushing for 93 yards on nine carries, while Johnson scored three times to help the Patriots remain unbeaten (2-0) in the Southeast League with a 38-19 victory over host Del Sol.

“You never want to see your star player get injured or come out of the game,” Muraco said. “We have a lot of young running backs behind Niko who don’t get carries. … It’s a valuable experience for them.”

The injury happened late in the first quarter after a Kapeli 5-yard gain. He was down for a few minutes, and initially walked off the field without any assistance from trainers.

Mitchell said he thought Kapeli would be able to return, but was surprised when he couldn’t continue playing.

“He usually brushes things off,” said Mitchell, who also had two interceptions and caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. “When he didn’t come back, I knew it was pretty serious.”

Liberty plays Eldorado next week in a game the No. 2 ranked Patriots could likely win without their star.

“He’s a tough guy. He’ll come back probably next week,” Nacua said. “He likes to show people he’s hurt, and then come back and say, ‘I’m back. I’m back.’”

Nacua was also banged up, admitting that he wasn’t sure at first if he was going to play after suffering an arm injury last week against Coronado. He opted to suit up, telling coaches to put him wherever he needed to be.

Apparently, that was everywhere.

Nacua rushed the ball four times for 23 yards with two touchdowns. He also caught one pass for 51 yards, and played a vital role on defense and special teams.

“Kai is the best high school player in the state of Nevada,” Muraco said. “He can do anything.”

Quarterback Tyler Newman threw for 179 yards with two touchdowns, as the Patriots upped their overall record to 5-1.

The Dragons, on the other hand, fell to 1-5 overall and 0-2 in conference.

There was, however, one bright spot for the Dragons.

Cameron Lamont rushed 37 times for 249 yards with a touchdown. He gained 80 of those yards on the opening drive of the game, when the Dragons faced some of Liberty’s second-team defenders.

Muraco was attempting to get his second unit more playing time, but once Lamont carried the Dragons deep into Patriot territory with gashing runs, the first unit entered the game. Lamont punctuated the effort with a seven-yard score to give the Dragons their first — and only — lead of the game.

“We wanted to give some kids a different look and start,” Muraco said. “They marched down and got inside the 10. I called timeout, put the first D in, and they ended up scoring.”

The Patriots responded with a seven-play drive capped off by a Nacua two-yard touchdown dive. Nacua also caught the ensuing two-point conversion to give Liberty the lead, which it never lost.

Paul Delos Santos can be reached at 990-2416 or [email protected] Follow Paul on Twitter at

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