Liberty seemed buried midway through the third quarter, trailing Silverado 20-7 and the clock winding down.
Niko Kapeli wouldn’t let the Patriots die.
Kapeli piled up 166 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, including the game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter, to help No. 8 Liberty rally for a 26-20 home win Friday night over the Skyhawks.
“I did (feel the pressure),” Kapeli said. “But I needed the work. It was time for us to get going.”
Two fumbles and two interceptions buried the Patriots (3-1, 1-0 Southeast League) early, and the Skyhawks took advantage.
Barely 10 seconds after Izaiah Thurmon’s first touchdown gave Silverado (1-3, 0-2) a 13-point lead, Liberty quarterback Kai Nacua threw his second interception, and the Skyhawks got the ball back again.
But Liberty, playing behind a home crowd that was starting to get restless, wasn’t finished. The
Patriots’ defense stopped Silverado that possession, and with a minute to play in the third quarter, momentum finally went Liberty’s way.
Shamar Carroll leaped into the passing lane at midfield and snatched Liberty’s first interception of the night, returning the ball 45 yards to put the Patriots within six with a quarter.
When Liberty got the ball back at the beginning of the fourth quarter, everyone wearing red on the field raised their arms — playing to a crowd that had been waiting all night for something to happen.
Kapeli harnessed motivation from those cheers. With the Patriots limited in the passing game by Silverado’s secondary, it was up to Kapeli to power the Patriots offense.
The junior running back plowed off right tackle and tied the game on a 26-yard touchdown scamper.
Silverado blocked the extra-point attempt, and with the game tied at 20 midway through the third quarter, Patriot defense needed another stop.
This time, Liberty held solid, and the Patriots got the ball back at their own 48-yard line with six minutes left.
Kapeli traded carries with his workhorse older brother, Jordan Kapeli, and the two pushed Liberty up to the 17-yard line. Then it was up to Niko Kapeli again.
Running behind tight end Kimo Seau, Niko Kapeli scampered to the left, then cut right, and finally spun into the end zone to give Liberty its first lead of the night with four minutes remaining.
“We prepared the whole week for (Silverado),” Kapeli said. “It finally came together in the fourth quarter.”
And he wasn’t finished.
With Silverado driving to the Liberty 40, safety Kapeli stepped into the open field and snatched a pass out of the air and returned it to midfield, sealing the game for the Patriots.
Thurmon rushed for 95 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns for the Skyhawks.