When Bishop Gorman’s football team takes the field at Sam Boyd Stadium today, the Gaels will be trying to become the first team to win a fourth straight large-school state title since Reno High in 1952.
Liberty’s task might be even more daunting.
The Patriots will be trying to become the first Nevada team to beat Gorman since Nov. 21, 2008.
“I feel like it’s going to take a perfect game,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “It’s something that is really hard to achieve, and we have to have a lot of things go our way. Our defense has to play the best they’ve played all year. And we have to win the turnover battle. If those things don’t happen, then they’re pretty hard to beat. It’s going to be a very difficult task for us.”
Muraco’s Patriots (11-1) will take on the Gaels (12-1) at 12:15 p.m.
Gorman has won 49 straight games against Nevada schools, including one by forfeit. In the 48 contested games, the Gaels have outscored opponents at a 55.8 to 8.1 clip. They won the past three state title games by 44, 40 and 41 points.
But Muraco believes his squad has the horses to stay with Gorman. And for Liberty, it all starts with quarterback Kai Nacua and running back Niko Kapeli.
Nacua has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 1,070 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 762 yards and 15 scores. Kapeli hasn’t been as dominant this season but has rushed for 1,255 yards and 14 TDs. The UNLV recruit had 2,383 yards and 30 TDs as a junior.
“We feel like with the players we have, with Kai and Niko in particular, it’s hard for teams to focus on one aspect of our game,” Muraco said. “And hopefully the boys will execute and be successful.”
Liberty has switched between a two-tight end, two-fullback power set and a spread formation this season with good results. But the combination of a power running game and a spread passing attack doesn’t worry Gorman coach Tony Sanchez.
“We’ve seen that all year against some of the best teams in the country, so we feel good about it,” Sanchez said.
Eating clock and somehow slowing Gorman’s potent offense will be Liberty’s main goals. Gorman has averaged 54.9 points and 496.4 yards of offense this season. Four-year starting quarterback Jarrett Solomon, who has committed to Arizona, has been a huge threat, passing for 2,648 yards and 33 TDs this season.
“We’ve got to create some turnovers, No. 1,” Muraco said. “We have to get pressure on their passing game. If (Solomon) can just sit back there, and he has four or five or six seconds to throw the ball, he’s going to pick you apart because he’s such an amazing quarterback.”
Liberty gave Gorman one of its tougher games against a Nevada team last year in the state semifinals, losing 56-34. But Muraco said it’s important to make Gorman work harder for its points this season.”
“Last year was like we score, we get all the momentum, and in a minute, 20 seconds they would score,” Muraco said. “We just can’t have that happen this year. We’ve got to make them earn their scores. We know that we’re not going to stop them; we just need to slow them down and make them take five or six minutes to score and not score in 30 seconds.”
Muraco said Nacua could be his X-factor this season. Though Nacua is a three-year starter at quarterback, he’s far more of a threat this season than he was a year ago when the team leaned heavily on Kapeli.
“Some of our best plays this year have been just quarterback scrambles,” Muraco said. “He’s just so dynamic. He’s a good runner. He’d be a great running back on most teams, and he’s a special kid.”
Outside linebacker Samuel Monterde, another three-year letterman, is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the state’s best team.
“They’re top dogs,” Monterde said. “It’s going to be a great deal to play against them, to show that teams can be defeated and come up on top. It’s going to be a great game.”