Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016 | 1:40 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports editors Ray Brewer and Case Keefer ring in the start of football season by discussing some of the valley's top storylines and teams, like Bishop Gorman, Liberty, Arbor View and Desert Pines.
Liberty defensive lineman Villiami Taiese felt humbled as he watched Arbor View running back Deago Stubbs cross the goal line with less than a minute to go Friday night at Freedom Field.
The sophomore had momentarily started to accept something previously unimaginable — defeat. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Taiese noticed a shimmering yellow.
“All of a sudden, I saw that flag back there,” Taiese recalled. “I was just thanking God because we got another chance.”
Stubbs’ 15-yard touchdown reception from Hayden Bollinger was void because the Aggies had false started, though few heard the whistle or saw the flag before the snap. They would have three more chances to re-create the score and potentially win the game. Taiese wasn’t going to let that happen.
On the second play, Liberty senior Noah Espinoza forced Bollinger out of the pocket and into Taiese’s arms for a sack that all but ensured a 27-23 victory for the Patriots.
“I was supposed to stay home, but I went around the center and I saw him right there and hit him,” Taiese said. “I got up, and I’ve never felt so good in my life.”
The elements, turnovers, rustiness and perhaps even hubris conspired against Liberty Friday night in the 2016 high school football season opener. The No. 2-ranked team in Southern Nevada still found a way to outlast No. 4 Arbor View.
In a game featuring six lead changes and a 40-minute weather delay, Liberty escaped with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kenyon Oblad to Darion Acohido with 5:35 to play ending up as the game-winner.
“We battled through some mistakes,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.
Arbor View capitalized on virtually all of them. The Aggies fell into a touchdown deficit 30 seconds into the game, but cut the score to 7-6 after recovering a Patriots fumble and benefitting from a trio of personal-foul calls.
DeKarri Gunn — who along with Stubbs finished with 68 rushing yards — ran in a 7-yard touchdown. The Aggies’ next touchdown would come when senior cornerback Mike Sims intercepted a Kenyon Oblad pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown to put the Aggies up 16-13.
Liberty, on the other hand, had no takeaways.
“I can’t sit here and say we’re definitely better than them,” Muraco said. “We’re very equal, and it was a great game. I’m proud of my guys.”
While Acohido made the decisive score and fellow senior receiving star Ethan Dedeaux found the end zone on each of his two receptions — from 42 and 51 yards — Liberty had just as many new faces emerge to play major roles. Taiese was expected to only play offensive line, but the coaching staff inserted him into the defensive rotation to keep more players fresh against Arbor View’s taxing double-wing attack.
Senior tight end Trenton Sipes pulled off two of the most important plays of the night after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Sipes set up Acohido’s touchdown with a 38-yard reception on a 3rd-and-10 play in Liberty’s own territory.
He also caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to make the score 19-16 in the third quarter just as lightning flashed across the sky, prompting officials to pause the game for safety.
“The rain hit hard but we just let it go,” Taiese said. “Everyone was good in the locker room, we just stretched out and got ready.”
Another Liberty miscue nearly cost it the game upon the restart. The Patriots went three-and-out on their first offensive possession, and the wet conditions caused for a bad snap on the punt attempt to give Arbor View the ball on the 18-yard line.
Bollinger pushed the pile into the end zone on a quarterback sneak from a yard out shortly after to put the Aggies ahead 23-20.
A successful Bollinger sneak on a 4th-and-2 play on the last drive also gave a lift to Arbor View, which went on to convert first downs on three of the next four plays to get deep into Liberty territory. Then with 51 seconds left on the clock, it looked like Bollinger and the Aggies had pulled off the upset.
But the false start saved Liberty.
“Obviously it’s disappointing giving up the potential winning touchdown,” said Muraco, who had briefly started to formulate how the offense could answer. “But we were prepared for it if it happens.”