Star running backs typically attribute their success to their offensive lines after big games.
Liberty High’s Niko and Jordan Kapeli instead credited their grandmother on Friday.
The Kapeli brothers lost their family matriarch last weekend, but they helped their team win its first Southeast League championship by beating Foothill 28-14 at Liberty.
“We had to play for our grandma,” said Niko Kapeli, who rushed 25 times for 83 yards and two touchdowns. “She was our No. 1 fan, and she would have been happy to see us win this game.”
Jordan Kapeli led third-ranked Liberty through the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns to help the Patriots take control.
The fifth-ranked Falcons appeared tentative in the first half, committing four turnovers that led to three one-down possessions.
Liberty coach Rich Muraco gave his defense some of the credit.
“This is high school football, and (Foothill) came out a little tight,” he said. “But I also think we had a good defensive game plan.”
Liberty’s offense struggled to capitalize, managing just 65 yards in the first half.
But the Patriots (7-1, 6-0 Southeast) didn’t have to work hard for their first score, recovering a Foothill fumble at the Falcons 20-yard line and scoring six plays later when Jordan Kapeli plowed through the line for a 5-yard touchdown.
Liberty extended its lead 28 seconds later after intercepting a Parker Riggin pass. Jordan Kapeli needed one play to find the end zone, running 11 yards up the middle to make the score 14-0.
The fifth-ranked Falcons (8-1, 4-1) answered with a 68-yard drive to cut their deficit to 14-7 on a 1-yard pass from Riggin to Darius Gates with 12 seconds left in the first quarter.
Muraco said he thought his team should have gone into halftime with a bigger lead.
“At halftime, we made some adjustments,” Muraco said. “We decided to run more between center and guard. That seemed to be the difference.”
The adjustment resulted in a 16-play, 70-yard third-quarter drive that ate up more than nine minutes of clock and finished with a 3-yard dive by Niko Kapeli to make the score 21-7.
Foothill scored on a 3-yard pass from Riggin to Mikie Charlton early in the fourth, but Niko Kapeli erased any doubt by capping a 69-yard drive with a 3-yard run with 8:47 left.
“I think we just wore them down,” Muraco said. “It’s no secret that we have a very big offensive line and a lot of physical kids.”
Knowing the win secured his squad the No. 1 seed in the Sunrise Region playoffs, Muraco maintained a smile even after having an ice chest dumped over his head.
“For so many years, Liberty has been the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “So this is just such a great feeling.”
Jordan Kapeli carried 11 times for 61 yards.
Riggin completed 15 of 26 passes for 156 yards, but the Falcons were limited to 6 yards on the ground.