August 19, 2022 - 10:13 pm
Updated August 19, 2022 - 10:16 pm
It’s always a good sign when a football coach ends the night with a smile on his face.
Liberty coach Rich Muraco was wearing one by the end of the first quarter Friday, and it never faded as his team dismantled Palo Verde for a season-opening 39-7 home victory.
Isaiah Lauofo led the Patriots with seven first-half carries for 97 yards and three touchdowns, and teammate Tyrese Smith completed 9 of 12 passes for 129 yards and two TDs.
“I love this team,” said Muracco, whose squad had a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. “Maybe we don’t have some of the high-end talent that we had last year, but the rest of the team is even better. They’re more cohesive and they have a better attitude.”
Lauofo established his dominance early, recovering from a stumble and pounding into the end-zone for a 5-yard score on Liberty’s first drive. His 34-yard sprint four minutes later made it 14-0 with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
“We had some big plays,” said Muraco, whose team scored on all but the last of their first-half drives. “There weren’t a lot of sustained drives because we scored so fast, but I was impressed.”
Lauofo made it 21-0 late in the quarter with a 33-yard run, and then the Patriots went to the passing game. After scoring on a 4-yard keeper, Smith tossed TD passes to Ethan Hilliard and Landon Bell and made it 39-0 at halftime.
With a running clock in the second half, Muraco was able to get his reserves on the field. The Panthers finally took advantage on a 1-yard scoring plunge that capped a 64-yard fourth-quarter drive, cutting the score to 39-7 with 8:22 left to play.
Muraco said his team’s big halftime edge gave him a chance to experiment in the second half.
“The first game of the season, you never know how things are going to play out,” he said. “But at the beginning of the year we want to get all the kids into the flow of things. We made a few mistakes, but we’ll make corrections. We’ll get better from this.”
Liberty’s Bell finished with 88 yards on four receptions and teammate Comin Gregorio added 40 yards on three catches.
Crew Dannels completed 9 of 19 passes for Palo Verde, but was hurt by two interceptions. Teammate Jacob Fields caught three passes for 49 yards.