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Nevada State Football Championship Preview | Education & Schools

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Nevada State Football Championship Preview
Nevada State Football Championship Preview

By Cole Mitchum

Executive Editor, Liberty Tribune

The Liberty Patriots have done it again. They are the Sunrise Region's football champions again in 2012, completing the quest for the three-peat.

Liberty (11-1) defeated the Coronado Cougars (9-3) Saturday, 59-20, to claim the Sunrise Region title and have advanced to the state title game. This marks the first time the Patriots are in the state title game for football.

“I was extremely happy with the performance of the team against Coronado. It was our best-played game of the year,” Head Coach Rich Muraco said.

The Patriots will now take on local powerhouse Bishop Gorman (12-1) at 12:15 PM Saturday at UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium.

Gorman defeated Reed High School (Reno), 49-24, over the weekend to clinch their spot in the game. This will be the second time the teams meet in as many years.

Last year, the Gaels and Patriots faced off in a state semifinal matchup with a state championship berth on the line. This time, though, both teams will be going all in as it is for the championship.

In last year’s matchup, the Patriots fell 56-34 in a closely contested game that was within eight points at halftime with the Patriots trailing 28-20.

Gorman pulled away late after intercepting a pass to take a 15-point lead and then didn’t look back as their defense only allowed seven more points, and the offense scored 21 more.

This year is a different story though. Both teams enter with only one loss, and both teams enter hungry for the state championship.

“We worked extremely hard all year to get to this point,” Muraco said.  “We started lifting weights in December and practiced all spring and summer with the hope that we would get to play them again this year.”

The Patriots are coming off a strong victory over rival Coronado, while Bishop Gorman is coming off a win that was surpringly close, and even scary at moments for Gorman fans as they only led by four late in the third quarter.

Looking back on the teams’ individual seasons, the Patriots have the most momentum as they have won 11 games in a row. They also breezed through playoff action winning their games 33-14, 10-0, and 59-20. They also had impressive in-season victories over Palo Verde (42-28) and Canyon Springs (23-20).

Bishop Gorman, on the other hand, is coming in on a 10-game winning streak and had an easy road through the playoffs, as well, winning their four games by a total of 175 points. They also had an impressive regular season, winning three of their four games in their national schedule.

The teams will have a high spirit of competition as it is not only about school bragging rights, but also a battle of brothers. Liberty’s senior star quarterback Kai Nacua is the brother of Gorman’s star junior defensive end Isaiah Nacua.

This battle of brothers also happened last year and you can bet that Kai is looking for some payback in his last chance to play against his little brother. He will also be looking to win a state championship ring.

“Kai has been a beast the entire year but especially against Coronado where he had a hand on seven touchdowns. He was on another level compared to the rest of the players on that day,” Muraco said.

Both teams have impressive offenses with the Gaels having southern Nevada’s passing leader in senior Jarrett Solomon who had 2,654 yards with 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

Liberty counters with the duo of Nacua and junior Tyler Newman who have combined for 1,868 yards with 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

The rushing attack is also strong for both teams with Bishop Gorman having junior Nathan Starks who has 1,643 yards and 25 touchdowns. The Patriots have senior Niko Kapeli who has 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing two-plus games with a foot injury.

Defense has been a strong spot for both teams. The Patriots have 14 interceptions on the season, led by senior Jay Mitchell with nine and as a team also have 28 sacks and are led by junior Reno Tu’fuli, who has 4.5.

The Gaels have combined for 13 interceptions and have also combined for 32 sacks, led by Nacua who has 8.5.

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