Liberty football coach Rich Muraco is fully aware of the challenge ahead Tuesday.
The Patriots will face Bishop Gorman, the No. 1 team in the country, at 7 p.m. at Allegiant Stadium for the Class 5A Division I state football championship.
Though Muraco said potentially pulling off the upset isn’t “impossible” or that his team doesn’t have to play a “perfect game,” he said his players know they face a tall task.
“They understand that it’s going to take our best effort and our best execution to be in a game with (Gorman),” Muraco said.
The second meeting of the season between the state’s top two teams will be the last of four state title games Tuesday at Allegiant Stadium, with the first game at 9 a.m. Six of the eight teams are from Southern Nevada.
Liberty is the only Nevada team to have beaten Gorman since 2009 when it pulled off a 30-24 home overtime victory over the Gaels in the 4A Desert Region final in 2019. The Patriots won the title that year while snapping Gorman’s streak of 10 straight titles and 115 consecutive victories against Nevada opponents.
After an eventful realignment process, 5A was split into three divisions and two state title games were added. The top one, Division I, was made up of seven Southern Nevada teams and no schools from Northern Nevada, which elected to drop to Division II.
With the new realignment structure, Liberty and Gorman met for just the second time in the regular season this year. Gorman took advantage of two Liberty turnovers in the first half and turned them into touchdowns on its way to a 49-6 victory.
“We went in, tried some things and didn’t want to show too much,” Muraco said.
Gorman boasts an offense with many Division I prospects and averages 49 points per game. Muraco said it isn’t a “secret” that stopping the Gaels’ offense “at least a couple of times” will be important to give the Patriots a chance.
“We have to control the clock, keep their offense off the field and execute and score when we can,” Muraco said. “We have to get a couple of turnovers and win the special teams game. It’s going to take a lot.”
Liberty’s nonleague schedule featured wins against out-of-state teams St. Louis (Hawaii), Campbell (Hawaii) and Cathedral Catholic (California). The Patriots opened the season against No. 3 and reigning national champion St. John Bosco (California) with a 42-22 loss.
“When you have the No. 1 team (Gorman) in the country in your state, you have to elevate your game. You have to elevate your standards,” Muraco said. “It’s what you’re up against. Our two losses are to Gorman and St. John Bosco. Hopefully our kids realize what type of game needs to be played when you play those elite programs.”
Along with the challenge of playing Gorman, Muraco has had to handle an 18-day layoff between the 5A Division I state semifinals Nov. 3 to Tuesday’s game.
“From a positive standpoint, we were able to get healthy,” he said. “That gives them time to heal, and that’s good. The negative side is that you worry about rust. Hopefully we get out there and won’t have too much of that, but it’s definitely something to be worried about.”
Muraco said this year has been a “piece of mind” with 39 seniors who returned from last year’s team, led by senior linebackers and UNLV commits Jae Beasley and Koi Paaoao and quarterback Tyrese Smith. Muraco said he’s been “proud” of how his players have responded to what has been asked of them.
“All we can do is ask for an opportunity to play for a state championship, and we’re where we want to be,” Muraco said. “Now it’s just a matter of being able to capitalize on it. I know not many people outside of our team believe we have a chance, but the kids and coaches in our room know we have a chance.
“We’re going to go out and give our best effort. Hopefully we’ll shock the world.”
Prep football state championship schedule
Tuesday at Allegiant Stadium
Class 2A: Pershing County vs. Lake Mead Academy, 9 a.m.
Class 5A Division II: Bishop Manogue vs. Faith Lutheran, 12:20 p.m.
Class 4A: Sunrise Mountain vs. Centennial, 3:40 p.m.
Class 5A Division I: Liberty vs. Bishop Gorman, 7 p.m.
Streaming: NFHS Network (subscription required)