Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010 | 6:30 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer break down this week's high school football state semifinals. Can Liberty handle traveling to Northern Nevada to face McQueen — and the Reno area's cold weather? Plus, everything you need to know about the much anticipated showdown between Bishop Gorman and Palo Verde.
The best season in Liberty’s school history came down to a play the Patriots won't soon forget.
Sophomore running back Niko Kapeli took in a three-yard touchdown with five minutes remaining in the game to make the score 7-6 in the state semifinals against McQueen in Reno. Instead of attempting an extra point, Liberty decided to go for the two-point conversion.
The McQueen defense shut down a handoff to Kapeli and didn’t let Liberty near the end zone the rest of the game.
“It was like a blizzard and I was worried about the snap and the hold,” Liberty coach Muraco said. “Obviously, it backfired. But we had just marched down the field and I felt like we were wearing them down. We also had plenty of time left in case we didn’t get in.”
Liberty got the ball back twice, once at about midfield with four minutes remaining, but couldn’t put together a drive in the adverse conditions.
“I don’t want to use the weather as an excuse because they had to play in it, too,” Muraco said. “But it really affected our passing game and my confidence in our special teams.”
At the beginning of the day, it was only cold and windy in Reno with no snow. But as the game went on the snow started to come down heavier.
McQueen got off to a fast start by catching Liberty off guard with a trick play. Lancers running back Nick Shepard caught a toss, but instead of running he launched it 70 yards for a touchdown to Rollins Stallworth.
That was the sole blip on an otherwise dominating day by the Patriots' defense.
“Defensively, we played amazing,” Muraco said. “But we just didn’t execute when we needed to execute to win the game. We had the typical mistakes we had all year and when you play against a better team later in the year, those things matter. They are hard to overcome.”
Liberty got within the 10-yard line earlier in the game, but was pushed out of the red zone because of a 15-yard facemask penalty.
The Patriots later missed a field goal after fumbling the hold. The miscues put to waste a solid day from Kapeli, who rushed for 120 yards.
The defeat means the state championship trophy will stay out of Henderson for the 50th straight year. A Henderson team hasn’t won the title since Basic in 1960.
“It hurts, obviously,” Muraco said. “But looking back to where we came from a few years ago, where we were getting blown out every game to making the playoffs last year to winning the division and the Sunrise this year, these kids accomplished a lot.”