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Palo Verde claws out hard-fought victory against Liberty

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Justin M. Bowen

Palo Verdes Brandon Wright tries to break away from the Liberty defense during their game Friday. Palo Verde edged out a 24-21 victory.

Updated Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010 | 1:32 a.m.

Palo Verde vs. Liberty

A game of top powers lived up to its billing, as Palo Verde hung on for a 24-21 victory against visiting Liberty.

Palo Verde-Liberty

The referees put their hands over their heart just before Palo Verde and Liberty face off Friday. Palo Verde edged out a 24-21 victory. Launch slideshow »

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer break down the first week of high school football games and look ahead to this Friday's gridiron action.

When it mattered most, Palo Verde running back Brandon Wright delivered.

Liberty contained Wright, the city’s premier running back, as well as anyone could for the majority of Friday night’s battle at Palo Verde. But Wright awakened in the fourth quarter with two of the biggest plays of the game to lead the Panthers to a 24-21 victory.

“He’s just a great kid to coach and he really stepped it up when we needed him down the stretch there,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “He turned it all into another gear.”

Wright picked up 32 yards on a third-and-31 play from Palo Verde’s own 35-yard line with nine minutes remaining and the game tied at 14.

“It sure makes me look like a good coach,” Rost joked. “Brandon made all that happen. The call was just to get field position to get our punt team out there. I didn’t think he was going to get all the way to the first down.”

The long third down conversion set up what turned out to be the decisive field goal, a perfect 38-yarder from Garrett Dunlap.

Wright scored shortly after on a 15-yard rush to make the score 24-14. Wright finished with 28 rushes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

“We knew we were coming into a physical game, but that was one of the most physical games we’ve been in so far and even last year,” Wright said.

Although the Patriots never led, they controlled the ball and had more total offense in the first half.

The Panthers struggled to stop the combination of Liberty running backs Ty Byrd and Niko Kapeli. Byrd rushed 15 times for 104 yards and a touchdown, while Kapeli recorded 90 yards on 16 carries.

“We knew Palo was an elite program and the fact that we hung in there with them, I feel good about that,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.

Palo Verde struck first by catching Liberty off guard and going through the air on its first possession.

Senior quarterback Chaisson Prescott found senior tight end Thayer Coon for a 40-yard touchdown.

Liberty answered quickly when Byrd had a 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. The Patriots made it into the red zone two other times in the first half, but came away with no points.

Once, they lost a fumble at the 16-yard line. Then, Muraco elected to go for a fourth-and-3 play from the Palo Verde 6-yard line.

The Panthers stuffed the hand-off to junior fullbackJordan Kapeli in the backfield.

“You look at it now and think, we lost by three, if I would have kicked a field goal it would have been tied,” Muraco said. “But who knows if they would have gone for a field goal then or how it would have played out. You can always second guess yourself when you look back, but we feel like on fourth-and-two or fourth-and-three with our offensive line and our running backs, we should be able to get it.”

Liberty’s biggest downfall might have been its inability to pass the ball. Cornerback Ryan Beaulieu set up Palo Verde’s second touchdown when he returned a Kai Nacua interception 47 yards to the eight yard-line with 20 seconds left in the first half.

Nacua’s second interception came late in the fourth quarter when Donald Anderson stepped in front of one of his passes at Liberty’s 15-yard line. Wright scored on the next play.

“Donald stepped up and made a huge one for us there,” Rost said. “I thought our offense was struggling a little bit, so what a play by our defense there giving us the ball where they did.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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