Sunrise football showdown: Liberty’s power vs. Las Vegas’ speed

Power vs. speed.

That’s what the Sunrise Region football championship will come down to as Liberty (10-1) travels to Las Vegas High (11-1) at 8 tonight.

“Anytime you’re playing a speed team, they want you to go side to side,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “And we want to go straight ahead and use our size advantage. That’s pretty much our game plan every week: pound the ball and hopefully wear them down in the second half.”

Liberty relies on running behind its big offensive line. Muraco said the team relies heavily on guards P.J. Taeao (6 feet 3 inches, 315 pounds) and Tuli Fakauho (6-1, 330) and left tackle Daniel Filimona (6-2, 250).

“They’re the reason why everybody says we’re so big and strong up front,” Muraco said. “They’ve just done an amazing job all year. For the most part, they just are physically dominant, and they’re in good shape for big kids.”

The line has opened holes for a trio of backs all season. Sophomore Niko Kapeli leads the way with 1,103 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. But seniors Ty Byrd (509 yards, five TDs) and Teu Tai (475 yards, five TDs) will get carries as well. Sophomore quarterback Kai Nacua (10 TDs) and junior fullback Jason Kapeli (six TDs) have been strong options around the goal line.

“They’re so big and physical you don’t know if you can match up with them,” Las Vegas coach Chris Faircloth said. “In our division, teams are a little more minute. It’s kind of an unknown, because you’re not sure how you’re going to match up, or if you’re going to match up.”

Las Vegas’ three down linemen average 221 pounds, with 240-pound tackle Jose Cerriteno anchoring the group.

The Wildcats will need their speed to come through on offense, as well.

“They don’t score a ton of points, but they eat up the clock, and on the defensive side they make it very, very tough,” Faircloth said. “I don’t know if anybody in town has a better front four. If we don’t use our speed, it won’t be much of a game.”

Foothill caused Las Vegas problems last week by blitzing and prevented quarterback Hasaan Henderson from being effective throwing the ball.

The Patriots don’t blitz much, but defensive end Sam Tai provides plenty of pressure. He had three second-half sacks in a region semifinal win over Canyon Springs. And Byrd thinks the team’s physical nature on defense will serve it well as the Patriots try to contain the speedy Wildcats.

“Vegas, their biggest key is their speed. But how can you have speed when you run into a brick wall?” Byrd said. “And that’s what we are. We’re physical up front. So if we keep laying the hammer, speed won’t be a factor.”

Byrd and his fellow backs will have to do a better job holding onto the football this week. The Patriots lost two fumbles inside the Canyon Springs 5 last week.

“That shows the running backs how quick a game can turn around even though you’re dominating,” senior center Seth McDermott said.

Said Teu Tai: “We need to hold onto the ball. We just have to keep their offense off the field.”

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

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