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Liberty erases 17-0 deficit to gain share of Northeast title

If there was a way to rate how badly the first quarter went for Liberty on Thursday, it would fall somewhere between catastrophic and disastrous.

The Patriots committed four turnovers — including two fumbles on their first three plays from scrimmage — had six penalties for 43 yards and trailed Las Vegas by 17 points a little more than six minutes into the game.

“It’s probably one of the worst quarters I’ve been associated with here at Liberty in 12 years,” Patriots coach Rich Muraco said.

Luckily for No. 5 Liberty, there was plenty of time to respond.

Freshman Kenyon Oblad threw for 458 yards and three touchdowns, and Liberty rallied for a 48-20 victory over the host Wildcats to create a three-way tie for first place in the Northeast League.

Canyon Springs, which beat Silverado 56-17, earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of the head-to-head point-differential tiebreaker. The Patriots (7-2, 3-1 Northeast League) snagged the No. 2 seed, while Las Vegas (5-4, 3-1) fell to the third seed.

“I told them at halftime I was so proud of them and how they battled through the adversity early on. Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Muraco said. “They battled back, showed the maturity and leadership to just stay with the plan.”

Trailing 17-0 after the first quarter, Oblad threw a 24-yard touchdown to tight end Noah Jefferson, a Southern California commit, and hit Ethan Dedeaux for a 67-yard score to get Liberty back in the game midway through the second.

Calvin Tubbs scored on a 6-yard run with 2:01 left until halftime to put the Patriots on top, 21-17.

“When we scored to make it 17-7 and stopped them and scored again, I was like, ‘Thank you, we’re in this game now,’ ” Muraco said. “That was big getting that touchdown late there in the first half to go in with the lead.”

Spencer Wilson added two second-half touchdown runs for Liberty, which finished with 615 yards of total offense.

Oblad added a 37-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Pasigan with 9:40 to play to give the Patriots a 41-20 advantage. Oblad finished 19-for-28 and completed eight in a row to end the game.

“He has the ability. The sky’s the limit for him,” Muraco said. “He’s taken a little bit of heat from some people, had a couple bad games, but it’s not always on him. And he did a great job tonight.”

No. 9 Las Vegas went ahead less than three minutes into the game when Frankie Valenzuela pounced on a muffed punt in the end zone, and led 17-0 after Trevor Swenson hit Kode Mwirigi for a 26-yard touchdown after the Patriots’ third fumble of the first quarter.

But the Wildcats’ offense was held in check after that as Las Vegas managed only three points the rest of the game. Elijah Hicks, who had three straight games with more than 100 yards rushing, was limited to 74 yards on 26 carries. Swenson finished 22-for-41 for 203 yards.

“I’ve said all year our defense is the best defense I’ve been around,” Muraco said. “They’re stingy when it gets down into the red zone, and we’ve got a lot of playmakers.”

Contact reporter David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.

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