Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The Liberty High football team was ranked. No. 147 nationally last week going into a game many expected them to lose.
But the Patriots won, establishing themselves as a force not only in Southern Nevada but nationally too.
Liberty’s 21-14 victory at then-No. 16 Austin Westlake of Texas earned the Patriots their first appearance in the national top 25, landing at No. 23 Monday in the weekly Super 25 by USA Today.
“It’s something to be proud of,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “This is the result of the hard work we’ve put in the last eight years and the plan we have had the last five years to be relevant nationally and narrow the gap with Gorman.”
The same rankings have Gorman, which has won 41 straight games, ranked No. 1.
Liberty officials five years ago decided the lone way to compete with Gorman — the seven-time state champions — was to take a script out of the Gaels' playbook. Liberty’s preseason schedule would feature games against a who’s who of national opponents.
Gorman, as Liberty painfully learned last season, won’t be easy to dethrone. The Gaels beat Liberty 62-21 in the state championship game and a few weeks later was voted national champions.
Could this be Liberty’s year?
“We have an opportunity, if everything plays out the way we need it to, that at the end of the year, we can do something historic,” Muraco said.
First, Liberty has to tackle its next two opponents.
In two weeks, it hosts 3A classification juggernaut Desert Pines in a game some have labeled as one of the most intriguing nonleague games in recent memory. The following week they travel into Southern California to face nationally respected Centennial of Corona.
Muraco purposely scheduled his bye week for after the Texas trip, allowing for players — win or lose — to recover. But in addition to recovering from the travel, they have to allow the emotions of a program-changing victory to subside.
“If we would have to play this week, it would have been hard,” Muraco said. “It’s only natural to sit back and enjoy the praise. This allows the kids to enjoy it for a few days before we get back to work.”
The praise has come from all over — from players at other schools, including Gorman, to college coaches and members of the community.
It’s a win that won’t soon be forgotten.
“It’s great to see Nevada and Las Vegas get behind its own and root for its own on a national level. We are very appreciative of that,” Muraco said.