Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011 | 12:53 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer go across the valley and break down the upcoming week of high school. They give their picks on every game and spend extra time debating Del Sol vs. Liberty and Servite (Calif.) vs. Bishop Gorman.
It was this simple: Line up and run straight ahead. The Patriots ran the ball 29 times in a row to start the game and dominated the Dragons on the ground en route to a 34-0 victory.
“I’d love to be a spread guy and throw the ball and run all over the place to have exciting games,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “But ultimately, it’s about wins. We know we can physically match up with our division very well. That’s what we plan on doing.”
Junior running back Niko Kapeli flirted with breaking the school rushing record he set last week before settling for 208 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries. Kapeli had 23 attempts in the first half and only ran outside of the tackles once.
There was no reason to go anywhere but straight ahead with Liberty’s fullbacks and middle of the line, led by senior guard P.J. Taeao, clearing the way. That much became apparent early when the Patriots went 77 yards on 13 plays during their first possession of the evening.
“Coach said he wanted the first drive to be a statement drive,” Taeao said. “We wanted to keep the ball as long as we could and just keep pounding it.”
Kapeli scored the first four touchdowns for Liberty while senior Stevan Ware took in the final score from a yard out. Quarterback Kai Nacua added 52 rushing yards, and senior running back Arthur Wilkens had 40.
In total, Liberty ran for 348 yards.
“The coaches preached all week that the game was on us — the o-line and the defense,” Taeao said. “It was about hitting them hard and letting our running backs follow our blocks.”
As dominating as the Patriots were on offense, the defense was at least equally as effective. Del Sol never got inside the red zone and had less than 125 total yards.
Senior running back Chris Marshall, one of the valley’s best players, had 13 carries for 48 yards and one catch for 15 yards. It was a far cry from last year, when Marshall exploded for nearly 300 yards against Liberty in an overtime loss.
Muraco reminded his defense of that game throughout the week in preparation for the Dragons.
“I took the blame for Chris Marshall running so much last year,” said senior defensive end Kimo Seau. “I came out here determined.”
Seau looked the part. He sped off of the edge for three sacks of Del Sol quarterback Nathan Kirschbaum and also wrapped up Marshall numerous times.
It was a shocking outcome in what many hailed as a battle between the two best teams in the Southeast Division. Liberty and Del Sol are the Sunrise Region’s last two champions, but the Dragons are now mired in their first two-game losing streak in five years.
“We felt our offensive line could be our best defense and keep Chris Marshall off the field,” Muraco said. “We feel our o-line is one of the best in the city, and we proved that this week.”