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Early surge powers Liberty

Chris Smith didn’t start the game at quarterback Friday night.

But the Liberty senior wasted no time making his presence felt.

Smith scored on a 55-yard run on his first snap at quarterback to give the Patriots an early lead, and they held on for a 24-21 home victory over previously undefeated Del Sol.

“That was huge for our team,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “Playing a great team like Del Sol, if they get up on you, it might have caused our kids to start doubting. Being up on them proved to us that we are on the same level as them and that we could win the game.”

Muraco said he saw Del Sol’s defensive end following the running back instead of staying home on spread option plays. So he inserted the speedy Smith, who kept the ball on the option attempt and sprinted for the game’s first touchdown with 2:08 to go in the first quarter.

“I knew it would be wide open if the defensive end played it the way he did,” Muraco said.

The surprising Patriots (5-3, 3-2 Southeast League) took a 14-0 advantage into halftime after a 4-yard touchdown run by Teu Tai on fourth-and-goal with 2:11 to go in the half.

Third-ranked Del Sol (7-1, 3-1) rallied with two big third-quarter scoring runs but never could catch the Patriots, who also got a 29-yard field goal from Thomas Stone to help sustain the lead.

“We dug ourselves a 14-point deficit in the first half, and that’s definitely what we didn’t want to do because they’re so big,” Del Sol coach Preston Goroff said. “They’re really good at controlling the ball and controlling the clock.

“When we got behind, it worked against us.”

Del Sol’s Dezerick Reed had a 93-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-6. After Stone’s field goal, Chris Marshall scored on a 57-yard run, and Reed’s 2-point conversion pass from Troy Miller cut Liberty’s lead to 17-14 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.

“From watching them on film, we understood that that’s what they do,” Muraco said of the long runs. “They run 3 yards, 4 yards, 3 yards and then boom, big play.”

Del Sol went for another big play, faking a punt on fourth-and-10 from its 11. But the pass went incomplete, and three plays later, freshman Niko Kapeli scored on a 16-yard run as the Patriots extended their lead to 24-14.

The Dragons answered with a 20-yard TD pass from Miller to Evan Weinstock with three minutes left to cut their deficit to 24-21, but Liberty then picked up two first downs and ran out the clock.

The Patriots will play at Coronado on Thursday. A win would clinch the school’s first postseason appearance in football.

“It’s the biggest win ever for our program, for sure,” Muraco said. “(The players) responded. They believe that we are one of the better teams in the Sunrise Region, and they performed that way tonight.”

Said senior linebacker Samson Toalei: “It feels awesome as a senior to finally get this school into a playoff seed. I’m sure not only the seniors but the underclassmen as well. They’re happy to be a part of this special moment.”

Contact Prep Sports Editor Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587.

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