Patriots lose big lead, rally to beat Palo Verde

Liberty’s football team scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 2:12 on Thursday night to come from behind and beat visiting Palo Verde, 42-28.

The late touchdowns followed a furious Palo Verde comeback fueled by Ryan and Calvin Beaulieu.

Calvin Beaulieu’s 12-yard TD run with 5:05 to play tied the game at 27, and Tom Randall added the extra point to give the Panthers the lead.

But Liberty was able to grind out a 6 play, 64-yard drive on the ensuing possession, and quarterback Kai Nacua scored on a 19-yard option keeper with 2:12 left. Nacua caught the 2-point conversion pass from Tyler Newman to put the Patriots (1-1) up 35-28.

“For me, personally, it feels great,” Nacua said. “We played them two years ago. I made some mistakes, and we lost. It’s huge to win as a team.”

Palo Verde quarterback Parker Rost took a big hit from Drew Wilson on a scramble on the first play of the ensuing possession, and Tyler Edwards pounced on the fumble to give the Patriots the ball again. Three plays later Niko Kapeli scored on a 7-yard TD run, and Austin Fitzgerald’s extra point was good for the final margin.

“The senior leaders have been there,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “Kai’s played in 26 or 27 games. Niko’s played in over 30 games in high school. There was no panic there.”

Kapeli scored four touchdowns in the game. He had earlier TD runs of 5 and 63 yards, and also took a screen pass 85 yards for a touchdown. He finished with 184 yards on 26 carries.

Fitzgerald hit field goals of 47 and 40 yards for Liberty. His 40 yarder put the Patriots up 27-7 with 4:07 to play in the third quarter.

But that’s when Ryan Beaulieu helped Palo Verde mount its comeback. He caught a 45-yard TD pass from Rost with 1:29 to go in the quarter to cut the lead to 27-14.

“It was kind of slipping away from us there,” Muraco said. “When we went up 27-7, I thought we were going to get on a roll there. To Palo’s credit, they’re a good team and there’s no quit in them.”

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ryan Beaulieu fielded a punt on a big hop, bounced outside and streaked 65 yards down the right sideline for a TD to cut the lead to six.

Ryan Beaulieu earlier had a 67-yard punt return for a TD called back when the Panthers were whistled for roughing the kicker.

He also made a leaping grab of a 26-yard pass for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Jayjay Mitchell intercepted a pair of passes for Liberty.

“Jay is a very dynamic player on offense, defense and special teams,” Muraco said. “He’s a threat any time he touches the ball to take it to the house.”

Sixth-ranked Palo Verde fell to 1-3. It’s the first time the team has lost three games in a season since going 9-4 in 2006.