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Liberty falls to Arizona powerhouse in season opener, 31-17

Updated August 23, 2019 - 11:59 pm

Liberty football coach Rich Muraco isn’t usually happy after a loss, but Friday night was a rare exception.

Facing three-time defending Arizona state champion Chandler, the Patriots kept the score close most of the way before fading late en route to a 31-17 season-opening home loss.

Kanyon Stoneking completed 29 of 44 passes for 345 yards to lead Liberty in a game Muraco called a “learning experience.”

“We learned a lot about competing at a very high level,” Muraco said. “Our guys didn’t give up, and I saw a lot of good things.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Chandler scored first on a 45-yard scoring sprint by Dae Dae Hunter for a 7-0 lead early in the second.

The Patriots responded with a field goal, but the Wolves extended their lead to 14-3 on a 23-yard pass from Mikey Keene to Kyion Grayes with 4:51 left in the half.

Stoneking connected with Victor Epstein for a 21-yard touchdown pass late in the half to make the score 14-10, but several other scoring opportunities were lost because of penalties and turnovers.

“We’ve got to work on our discipline,” said Muraco, whose team committed four turnovers. “And we lost the turnover battle. You just can’t put the ball on the ground. Our running backs have got to do a better job.”

Chandler led 17-10 at halftime after ending the second quarter with a field goal.

Liberty looked refreshed after halftime and made the most of an interception by scoring on Zyrus Fiaseu’s 4-yard run to tie the score at 17 early in the third quarter.

But the Patriots soon began wearing down, as the Wolves pounded away with a steady balance of passes and big runs, going ahead 24-17 on a 3-yard pass from Keene to Hunter.

Three of Chandler’s four touchdowns were on fourth-down plays.

“That’s tough,” Muraco said. “We were going against a team with high-end talent, and we’ve just got to tighten up. But that’s why we play these games.”

An interception led to Chandler’s final touchdown, a 3-yard run up the middle by Hunter to make the score 31-17.

Muraco said he thought the game was good for his team.

“I like the way we were able to move the ball,” said Muraco, whose offense racked up 401 yards. “Unfortunately those turnovers killed us. If we can take care of that, I like what we’re doing.”

Germie Bernard had five receptions for 110 yards for Liberty, and Moliki Matavao added 85 yards on eight receptions.

Hunter led the Wolves with 123 yards rushing on 15 carries.

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