The Sunrise Region championship football game didn't start off well for Liberty's Kai Nacua on Saturday.
The senior quarterback fumbled on the first play, with Coronado's Corey Sobczyk scooping up the ball and returning it 13 yards for a touchdown.
Nacua more than made up for the miscue.
Nacua passed for four touchdowns, ran for two scores and caught a TD pass to help the Patriots to a 59-20 home victory over the Cougars for their third straight region title.
"He was amazing," Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.
Liberty (11-1) plays Bishop Gorman (12-1) in the Division I state title game at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.
It didn't take Nacua long to atone for his mistake. On Liberty's third play after Sobczyk's fumble return, Nacua hit Tevis Labrador for a 73-yard scoring strike that tied the game with 10:35 to go in the first quarter.
"After I fumbled and I saw that scoop and score, I was like, 'Now we're getting it back,' " Nacua said. "I just tried to keep calm. I let that play go. Once that happened, I was like, 'All right, it happened. Now we've got to do our thing and keep moving the ball.' "
Muraco said his initial reaction to the fumble on the opening play was, "Oh, no." But the coach was happy with the way the team responded and immediately took control.
"If any positives can be taken from that, it's that it was the very first play of the game and you've got a lot of time to recover from it," Muraco said. "If we would have come out the next series and gone three-and-out, then maybe our confidence would have been shaken a little bit. But we were able to get the ball back and score right away, and at that point it's a 0-0 game and there's no nerves."
The Patriots moved the ball all day, racking up 511 yards of offense, and never punted.
"We had a pretty good week of practice," said Nacua, who has committed to Brigham Young. "Everything was just falling into place. I knew that we were going to come out hard, but the score says it all."
So do Nacua's numbers. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 230 yards and carried the ball seven times for 113 yards.
After the Patriots tied the game, Nacua led the team on a four-play, 82-yard drive that took only 50 seconds. He capped the drive with a 19-yard run on an option keeper.
This time, he covered the ball with both hands and fought through a bevy of Coronado tacklers for the score.
"I made sure that I wasn't fumbling on that one, because we needed to respond to that and I was able to get into the end zone," Nacua said.
On Liberty's next possession, Nacua made a leaping catch of a 22-yard scoring pass from Tyler Newman, and the Patriots never looked back.
Nacua's most impressive play came when he lined up at receiver and took a lateral from Newman near the right sideline.
Coronado appeared to have him bottled up in the backfield, but Nacua somehow escaped, breaking a pair of tackles just to get back to the line of scrimmage, then cutting all the way across the field and outrunning the defense for a 62-yard scoring run with 9:35 to go in the half.
Liberty running back Niko Kapeli, a UNLV recruit, carried the Patriots in the Sunrise semifinals, running the ball 29 times for 135 yards. The team lined up almost exclusively in its two-tight end, two-fullback set and pounded away in a 10-0 win over Canyon Springs.
On Saturday, however, the Patriots ran mostly from the spread formation.
"We've worked really hard the last couple of years to develop our spread game along with our power game," Muraco said. "I know it presents problems for teams.
"We've got playmakers. When you've got two legitimate Division I football players on the field in high school you can do a lot of things. Kai and Niko are a lot to handle for most teams."
Kapeli finished with 59 yards on eight carries and tight end Jozef Missaleafua hauled in a pair of TD passes for Liberty.
Kevin Lucero completed 22 of 35 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown to lead Coronado, which was making its first appearance in a region final.
"It's just a good feeling," Nacua said as the team celebrated with family and fans. "Everybody's here on the field. Just knowing how many people came out to celebrate, it's just a good feeling. All the family, all the friends that came to support. And this is what we've wanted for a long time, and it finally came true."
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at email@example.com or 702-380-4587. Follow @DamonSeiters on Twitter.