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Liberty defense showing it’s state-worthy as well

RENO — The offense for Liberty’s football team has garnered most of the publicity this season, which is what happens when you feature multiple college prospects and average almost 44 points per game.

Crishaun Lappin and the rest of the Patriots’ defense don’t seem to mind.

“We like it that way,” Lappin said. “It keeps us motivated that the offense gets all the stardom.”

Liberty will lean on its often-overlooked defense Saturday as it tries to slow down Northern Region champion Damonte Ranch in the Class 4A state semifinals. The game kicks off at 1:15 p.m. at McQueen High.

The winner will face either Bishop Gorman or Arbor View in the Class 4A state title game Dec. 3 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“Even myself looking at our defensive roster in the summertime, I was a little worried that we were a little thin in certain positions, and I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to stack up,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said.

“I knew that we had a lot of returning kids coming back on offense, but we had a lot of question marks on the defensive side of the ball, and they’ve stepped up and exceeded all the expectations that our coaching staff has had for them.”

The Patriots (11-1) allow an average of 15.1 points and 211.2 yards per game, numbers that are skewed by their 49-32 loss at Centennial-Corona (California) on Sept. 23 in which Liberty allowed 519 yards of total offense.

Since that setback against one of the nation’s elite teams, Liberty hasn’t allowed more than 243 yards in a game and has held six straight opponents to less than 200 yards of offense.

Lappin, a junior defensive lineman, leads the Patriots with 66 tackles and 11 sacks.

“The No. 1 reason that we’re successful, in my opinion, is our defensive line,” Muraco said. “They’re able to get pressure on quarterbacks without having to blitz people.”

Damonte Ranch (12-1) rallied to knock off five-time defending Northern Region champion Reed 49-45 last week and is expected to provide Liberty its toughest test since that Centennial-Corona game.

The Mustangs feature a fast-paced, spread offense that will spread out Liberty with five-receiver formations at times. Sophomore quarterback Cade McNamara has thrown 43 touchdowns, one shy of the state record.

“I think all the out-of-state games and those first four games prepared us really well for what was coming in these playoffs and state and going to Reno,” Lappin said. “Hopefully we can execute the game plan. My goal, and my D-line’s goal, is to just get to the quarterback and let our (defensive backs) make plays.”

Liberty, ranked No. 21 nationally by USA Today, is 0-2 in state semifinal games in Reno, losing to McQueen in a blizzard in 2010 and to Reed in 2013.

The forecast for Saturday calls for wind up to 25 mph and temperatures in the 40s.

“I think that the boys have the right mindset this year,” Muraco said. “We know that we’re a good program, we’re a good team, that we deserve to be here. One of our big goals is to win up in Reno. We’ve talked about it a lot this year.”

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

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