Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun editors Ray Brewer and Case Keefer go through every division and team in the 4A and 3A high school football classifications in their annual season-opening podcast.
Word of the score traveled quickly, interrupting fans’ attention at other second-round playoff games across the valley on a Thursday night last November.
It was an upset alert that no one involved in local high school football could ignore. Liberty trailed Foothill for most of the first half, and was ahead by only seven points with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
The Patriots scored two late touchdowns to win 30-10, but for the span of a couple hours, the now eight-time defending Sunrise Region champions didn’t look invincible.
“Everyone is scared of Liberty,” Foothill offensive lineman Julian Bradley said, “but when you come out, know you can win and know you have a shot, you can play and ball out just like you do any other game.”
Every team in the always-tough Southeast Division will be looking to re-create Foothill’s success when they take on Liberty this year, except taking it one step further by finishing the job. And it’s the worst-kept secret in the league that most teams have a newfound confidence considering what Liberty lost.
The Patriots remain loaded with talent, but four-year starting quarterback Kenyon Oblad, the state’s all-time leading high school passer, has moved nine miles up the road to UNLV.
“Everyone’s saying we lost our quarterback last year so they’re not really believing (in us),” Liberty receiver Cervontes White said. “But when you know, you know. That’s really what it is. We’re going to show the city, and that’s how it is.”
White, who hauled in 35 receptions for 668 yards and seven touchdowns last season, is among the weapons that will be at the disposal of whomever wins Liberty’s preseason quarterback competition. The eventual quarterback will also be able to lean on Zyrus Fiaseu, who emerged as the Patriots’ leading rusher and averaged more than 7 yards per carry as a freshman.
What the Patriots won’t have is time to ease into the season. They’ve played a national non-conference schedule for years now, but coach Rich Muraco rated this year’s slate as the toughest.
Liberty opens the year at Arizona power Saguaro, which it defeated at home last year, before hosting Lone Peak from Utah and Florida’s IMG Academy, the top-ranked team in the nation. The Patriots are looking at the stretch as a way to improve going into in-state competition.
On the flipside, it could leave them beaten-up and vulnerable as they transition into league play. The Patriots haven’t lost to a divisional opponent in nine years and are guaranteed to get everyone’s best shot.
“Three out of the last five years, we’ve been in that (regional) championship game against Liberty,” Basic coach Jeff Cahill said. “We haven’t been able to crack that yet, but we’re looking forward to get another shot this year.”
Basic endured a rebuilding year last season and went 3-7, but some would argue it presents Liberty’s biggest Southeast challenge this year. The Wolves return a bulky offensive line, led by senior Julio Duron, in front of junior quarterback Paul Myro and senior running back Dorian McAllister.
Liberty isn’t the biggest game on its schedule, though. The Henderson Bowl might be the annual biggest game in Southern Nevada, and Basic’s top goal is to win back the trophy after losing it to Green Valley for the first time in three years last season.
The Gators went 10-2 last season, and all-purpose threat Kalyja Waialae is back for his senior season.
Unlike Foothill, Green Valley never led Liberty last year in the playoffs but kept it similarly close in a 32-10 regional final loss.
The Southeast’s game of the year might have come at the end of the regular season, when Green Valley scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to come back and beat Foothill 26-24. It’s a bitter loss that Foothill, which has comparable returning talent to Basic, will look to avenge on Oct. 19, the week after hosting Liberty.
“We’ve got some interesting blood with some teams,” Green Valley linebacker Brant Hershberger said.
Coronado and Chaparral are considered a rung below the Southeast’s big four contenders, but there are reasons why writing them off might be a mistake. The Cougars are energized by new coach Terry Riddle, who’s preaching an opportunity to revive the program.
The former Arbor View assistant is implementing a version of the Aggies’ double-wing offense around speedy backs Semaj Bolin and Ayzayah Hartfield.
“I learned so much from Coach Barnson and Arbor View and I’m bringing that here and trying to implement something brand new to these guys that they never really had before,” Riddle said. “For the last few years, Coronado hasn’t really had the identity it had in the past, so I’m trying to instill that organization, that discipline and that toughness that you find in an Arbor View.”
Chaparral has reached the state semifinals in two of the last three years, but that was in the lower classification. The Cowboys now move up to 4A, and the question is how they handle a ramped-up schedule under new coach Don Willis.
“I think we’re in this to show we can compete at that level,” Willis said. “I know a lot of people around the city are doubting us right now, but I think we’ve got a lot of talent people aren’t counting on. We’re in the business of proving people wrong right now.”
There’s no older motivation in sports than proving people wrong, and that’s what every team in the Southeast is aiming to do as it pertains to Liberty.
“We’ve got to get over the hump with Liberty, but we believe we’ve got the tools to make it happen this year,” Green Valley assistant Vernon Brown said. “We’re going to give it our all.”
Last Year’s Finish: Liberty, Green Valley, Foothill, Basic, Coronado, Silverado
Projected 2018 finish: Liberty, Foothill, Basic, Green Valley, Coronado, Chaparral
Basic: Running back Dorian McAllister, quarterback Paul Myro, linebacker Trace Evans
Chaparral: Quarterback Joe Tauiliili, wide receiver Joel Casamayor, offensive/defensive lineman Tomas Benitez
Coronado: Kicker/punter Gavin Wale, running back/cornerback Semaj Bolin, offensive tackle Riley Danielson
Foothill: Wide receiver/defensive back Jordan Blakely, wide receiver, linebacker Braeden Wilson, wide receiver/defensive back Jordan Wilson
Green Valley: Wide receiver Kalyja Waialae, linebacker Mitch Jacobs, linebacker Brant Hershberger
Liberty: Running back Zyrus Fiaseu, linebacker Kyle Beaudry, wide receiver/defensive back Cervontes White
Offensive MVP: Liberty’s Fiaseu
Defensive MVP: Liberty’s Beaudry
Coach of the Year: Liberty’s Muraco
Game of the Year: Liberty 31, Foothill 20