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February 28, 2015

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high school football:

Record rushing day from Niko Kapeli carries Liberty past Silverado


Sam Morris

Liberty running back Niko Kapeli makes his way through the Silverado line during their game Friday, September 23, 2011. Liberty won the game 26-20.

Liberty downs Silverado, 26-20

KSNV coverage of Liberty High football team's 26-20 victory over Silverado, Sept. 23, 2011.

Liberty football rallies past Silverado

Liberty players celebrate their 26-20 win over Silverado with a haka Friday, September 23, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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The Liberty High football team gained 11 yards on nine first-quarter plays Friday against visiting Silverado.

For the game, the Patriots had two punts blocked, their quarterback was intercepted twice and they twice lost fumbles.

Yes, it wasn’t pretty.

But Liberty closed the game with 19 unanswered points, using a school-record 235 rushing yards and three touchdowns from junior Niko Kapeli in a 26-20 victory.

Kapeli’s 24-yard touchdown run with 4:25 remaining broke a 20-all tie to cap the comeback. On Silverado’s ensuing possession, Kapeli continued his dominating performance by intercepting a pass with about two minutes to play to seal victory.

“We have been in this situation a lot. We struggle with teams early,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “We have that workman-like attitude to just chug along and things will fall into place.”

Silverado added to its 14-7 halftime lead on its first possession of the third quarter, receiving the ball at the Liberty 20-yard line after its second blocked punt and taking a 13-point lead on a 2-yard touchdown plunge by Izaiah Thurmon. Quarterback Savon Moniz had Silverado’s other touchdown in the first quarter on a 16-yard quarterback scramble.

But just when it appeared Silverado was going to win the rivalry game for the first time in four years, Liberty showed why it is the defending Southeast Division and Sunrise Region champion.

It started on defense when Shamar Carroll stopped a Silverado drive by returning an interception 58 yards for a touchdown to trim the Patriots deficit to 20-14.

From there, the Liberty Patriots didn’t disguise their offense strategy, running with Kapeli between the tackles to move the ball up the field and physically dominate the rest of the game. Silverado, which is battling injuries to several key players, was eventually overmatched — especially on the line.

“We just ran out of gas,” Silverado coach Andy Ostolaza said. “I thought we played a little better tonight. We got some guys back. Hopefully the next couple weeks we get it together and come out in the second half and finish some games.”

A 26-yard touchdown run from Kapeli with 9:16 to play evened the game at 20. Even though the extra point was blocked, there was little doubt which team had the momentum.

“We decided we were just going to pound them,” Muraco said. “We are a great conditioned team and thought we could wear them down. We were only a touchdown behind going into the half, for as bad as we played. I really thought we could win the game if we could take care of the ball in the second half.”

Kapeli’s 235 rushing yards broke his own single-game school rushing record of 221 yards last year against Coronado.

“The lineman were blocking and doing their assignments, and my brother (fullback Jordan Kapeli) kept on (blocking) on the linebacker, and the hole was wide open,” Kapeli said.

Liberty won’t have much time to enjoy the comeback victory. It plays Del Sol next week in a game that some feel could decide the league title. Last year, Liberty erased a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to beat Del Sol, giving the Patriots momentum for their run to the state semifinals.

“Del Sol probably has the best running back (Chris Marshall) in the state, in my opinion,” Muraco said. “No offense to any of the other running backs, but he is something special. We are going to have to be ready to wrap up, tackle him and fly to the football.”

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