For the past few seasons, Liberty’s football team has employed a power running game to become one of the area’s top teams.
But there has been a change in identity this season. The Patriots have turned to the pass, and the results have been good. Senior Tyler Newman has emerged as the area’s leading passer and leads Liberty (8-3) into a Sunrise Region semifinal against visiting Canyon Springs (9-1) at 7 p.m. today.
“This year, we just adjusted to our strengths,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “We have a lot of really talented young athletes on our team, and Tyler’s matured so much and really taken his game to the next level and allowed us to have the confidence and the faith to throw the ball.”
Newman has completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,108 yards and 35 touchdowns. He has thrown just eight interceptions and had a nine-touchdown performance against Del Sol. The Patriots have thrown 280 passes and run the ball 274 times.
That’s a far cry from Liberty’s old ground-and-pound philosophy. In 13 games last season, the Patriots attempted 188 passes while running the ball 450 times.
“It’s been great for me,” Newman said. “I’ve been able to throw it around a lot this year. Our receivers have been making a lot of big plays, and the line’s been blocking great, so I can’t complain.”
Deseon McQuaig has emerged as the team’s big-play threat, with 37 catches for 774 yards and 10 touchdowns. Drew Hladek has 40 catches for 646 yards and seven TDs for Liberty, which has five receivers with 19 or more catches.
“For me, it’s been great, because as a receiver I like to get the ball and stuff instead of just block all day,” McQuaig said. “And I think it helps move the ball a little farther than running the ball.”
Muraco said the team still can move the ball on the ground. But no back is going to put up big numbers. Brenan Adams, Ethan Tuilagi, Calvin Tubbs and Tyler Parvin have combined to rush for 1,358 yards, but none averages more than five carries a game.
“I have four really talented running backs, and they each get three or four carries a game,” Muraco said. “But they’re good about it. They don’t pout, they know their role, and they do a great job in pass protection. It’s a pleasure to coach a group of kids like I have this year. They’re really selfless and really want the team to succeed.”
Liberty has averaged 40.6 points and scored 50 or more four times. But that high-powered offense runs into a Canyon Springs team that has yielded an average of 13 points. The team has two shutouts, and 44 of the 130 points the Pioneers have allowed came in a one-point loss to Green Valley.
“It should be a good challenge, kind of each team’s strength going against each other,” Muraco said. “Our team’s probably better on the offensive side of the ball, and their team’s better on the defensive side of the ball, so it should be a good matchup.”
The Patriots have won seven straight after a 1-3 start that included losses to three tough out-of-state teams. That experience has the team confident.
“No one in Vegas is going to compare to what we’ve already been against, so we’re prepared for whatever comes ahead of us,” McQuaig said.
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DamonSeiters on Twitter.
All times 7 p.m., unless noted
Sunrise Region semifinals
■ Las Vegas at Green Valley
■ Canyon Springs at Liberty
Sunset Region quarterfinals
■ Spring Valley at Bishop Gorman
■ Legacy at Arbor View
■ Cimarron-Memorial at Palo Verde
■ Shadow Ridge at Centennial, 8 p.m.