Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 | 1:31 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer talk about finding more competitive games for several struggling programs in the 4A classification — like in the 3A. Oh, Gorman and Palo are still the cream of the crop.
Liberty High football coach Rich Muraco had a stern message for his team following another lackluster performance Friday night.
The Patriots rallied back from an 11-point second-half deficit for a 37-26 victory against host Green Valley, following a similar script from past games where they are outplayed early and are forced to scramble for a win.
“That score is not good enough. That performance is not good enough,” Muraco told his team.
In a 42-7 victory last week against Basic, Liberty looked awful in the first half and was fortunate the game was tied at 7 at halftime.
Against Del Sol two weeks ago, Liberty erased a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes and won in overtime.
For a team several consider to be one of the area’s best, they certainly don’t play like it — at least not in the first half.
“Give Green Valley all of the credit in the world,” Muraco said. “They out-coached us in the first half.”
Liberty (5-1, 4-0 Southeast) trailed 26-15 midway through the third quarter and struggled containing Green Valley’s passing attack — the Gators passed for more than 350 yards and four touchdowns.
But the Patriots closed the game with 22 unanswered points, including scoring runs of 3 and 20 yards by sophomore Niko Kapeli.
Kapeli was the Patriots' feature back, replacing senior Ty Byrd who rested with a minor knee injury. Kapeli didn’t disappoint, rushing for 182 yards on 30 carries.
With time winding down in the fourth quarter, Liberty’s size advantage up front and its physical style of play took over. Kapeli scored the eventual game winner with eight minutes to play and added an insurance touchdown with five minutes left.
Teu Tai also had a 75-yard touchdown run.
“We're a second-half team,” Kapeli said. "We just need to shape up in the first half."
While Kapeli was a formidable replacement for Byrd on offense, the Patriots clearly lacked their team leader on defense.
Green Valley’s Paul McKay threw a pair of touchdowns of 50 or more yards, including an 80-yard strike to Sean Ferraro with 37 seconds remaining in the first half to cut Liberty’s led to 15-13 at halftime. One of two interceptions by Green Valley linebacker Ryan Lopez gave the Gators the ball late in the half.
On the first play of the second half, McKay connected with Joshua Lomax on a 52-yard touchdown for a 19-15 Green Valley lead. It was the second of two touchdowns for Lomax.
“Ty Byrd is probably our best all-around player,” Muraco said. “We obviously missed him. He plays on offense, defense, special teams and is our emotional leader.”
Muraco told his players they have the potential to do great things. It’s just a matter of playing a complete game.
And, if that happens, the Patriots’ star player knows the sky is the limit.
“I really feel like we are the Gorman or Palo Verde on this side of town,” said Sam Tai, Liberty’s defensive end who has double-digit scholarship offers.