Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 | 11:45 p.m.
Friday night the Liberty High Patriots hoisted the Sunrise Regional Championship plaque above their heads into a sky painted with red, white and blue fireworks.
The players celebrated. Coach Rich Muraco celebrated.
But despite Liberty winning its seventh-straight Sunrise title with a 58-14 dismantling of rival Basic, this isn’t what the Patriots ultimately want.
“I like winning these,” Muraco said to his team, holding up the plaque, “but now our real goals start. We’ve done this seven times but we’ve never won in Reno before. This is where we really become the best Patriot team ever.”
The Patriots will pack into a bus this week to make the eight-hour trek to Reno to play Damonte Ranch (12-1) who, like Liberty, is undefeated against Nevada opponents this season.
Damonte Ranch beat Reed 49-45 Friday night to win the Northern Region.
“We’ve pretty much dominated all of the local opponents down here and the defense has played phenomenal,” Muraco said.
Liberty has won its in-state games by an average of 35.4 points, ending the games with a running clock in six of them.
“Next week is going to be our third time going up there and the first time was a blizzard basically,” Muraco said. “It’s a tough trip and sometimes the weather can get in kids’ heads, especially Vegas kids.”
In 2013, the Patriots lost the state semifinal to Reed 35-31 in Reno.
“I like our team though,” Muraco said. “I like the mental approach that we take. I’m not worried about that as much this year.”
Liberty got a preview of the northern weather Friday night, with the temperature dropping as low as 45 degrees during its game with Basic.
The Patriots outgained the Wolves 308-76 in the first half, racing out to a 44-7 lead at the break.
Quarterback Kenyon Oblad threw for a modest 183 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
“He didn’t get a ton of yards today but he made all of the right reads and took what they gave him,” Muraco said. “He’s just such a great leader and a great kid and he allows us to do so many different things.”
In preparation for the harsh weather in Reno, Liberty leaned on its running game far more often than usual.
“We are primarily a passing team but we knew we had to run the ball tonight to get ready for next week,” said receiver Darion Acohido. “We have to run the ball better to get that ‘W.’”
Liberty ran for 184 yards, led by Bryson Delacruz, who rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown, and Ethan Dedeaux, who tallied 25 yards and a pair of scores.
Acohido led the way receiving with four catches for 49 yards and two spectacular touchdowns. Acohido rolled over a receiver, somehow staying off the ground on his first score, then made a one-handed catch in the end zone for his second.
“It was just a perfect throw by (Oblad) and I just knew I had to go get it for him,” Acohido said.
Liberty’s defense — which has allowed only 20 total points in three playoff games — again stifled the Basic passing attack.
Aaron McAllister, who is second in the valley in passing yards this season behind only Oblad, was held to only 44 passing yards, was intercepted twice and knocked out of the game.
“It was key because we needed to get to their quarterback and then let our defensive backs make plays on the ball,” said defensive lineman Crishaun Lappin.
Lappin got to McAllister to break the school’s single-season record for sacks with 11 this year.
“It feels great,” Lappin said. “I’ve been keeping track a little bit, but yeah it feels good.”
Liberty has made things look easy this year, but Muraco says he still enjoys every game.
“It never gets old,” Muraco said. “I still sometimes have to pinch myself. We have so many things going right here at Liberty. We have a great administration that supports us and puts the money in the weight room, and allows me to have a schedule where we can get the kids lifting during the day, and all of the great coaches that do it for free and put so many hours in.”
But now the real season starts for Liberty, which is one win away from a state title rematch with Bishop Gorman.
“This is going to be the true test,” Lappin said. “Hopefully we can get our first win up in Reno. I think we can do it and everyone else does as well.”