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Patriots target kickoff coverage weakness

Liberty’s football team racked up 585 yards of offense last week while limiting Shadow Ridge to 57 yards in a 58-26 victory.

But the number that stuck out to Patriots coach Rich Muraco was three, as in three kickoff returns for touchdowns by the Mustangs.

“Never in my whole life of playing, watching, coaching, playing Madden have I ever seen three kickoff returns for touchdowns,” Muraco said. “Maybe I should have just went to onside kicking the ball. It was a strange thing.”

Muraco hopes the team has plugged its holes on special teams when the second-ranked Patriots (2-0) host No. 8 Coronado (1-0) at 7 p.m. today.

“The defense played amazing, and the offense played great,” Muraco said. “We got the message across to the kids. We’ve got some tough teams coming up on the schedule, and we’re going to need all three phases to play well to win those games. I guess it’s better that it happened in a game where we were dominating the game than in a closer game.”

Muraco said the team has spent plenty of time working on kick coverage this week.

“Way more (time) than I’ve ever spent in any week,” Muraco said. “Honestly, every day we’ve had at least a 15-minute kickoff period. So we’re pretty confident we fixed the problem.”

Said junior defensive back Bryan Roland: “We had to work on that. We can’t have that this week.”

Liberty has allowed 40 points in two games this season, but most of it hasn’t come against the defense. Along with Shadow Ridge’s three kickoff returns, Basic had a long fumble return for a touchdown in the season opener. The Patriots have allowed a total of 167 yards in their two games.

“This week will be big challenge for us with the rival, and their offense is probably more balanced than the first two we’ve seen,” Muraco said. “So it’ll be a good test for us to kind of see where we’re really at.”

Coronado had 432 yards of offense in a 41-26 win over Huntington Beach (Calif.) in its opener. The Cougars racked up 300 yards on the ground, led by junior running back Jordan Patterson, who rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Coronado also got 132 passing yards from quarterback John Farella, and the Cougars are adept at adjusting their spread attack to focus on defensive weaknesses.

“They’re going to watch and see how we align and kind of take what we give them,” Muraco said. “If we’re overplaying the run, they’re going to pass the ball, and if we’re overplaying the pass, they’re going to run. So we have to do a good job of disguising our defense and just playing fast.”

Offensively, Liberty hasn’t missed a beat despite losing quarterback Tyler Newman, the 2013 Review-Journal Player of the Year, and its top two receivers to graduation.

Sophomores Ethan Dedeaux and Darion Acohido have emerged as key receivers to replace Deseon McQuaig and Drew Hladek. Dedeaux has 11 catches for an area-best 226 yards. Acohido has caught 13 passes for 210 yards, fourth-best in Southern Nevada. Freshman quarterback Kenyon Oblad has passed for 571 yards and five touchdowns.

“Our passing game is on point,” Dedeaux said. “Our running backs need a little more love. If our linemen get their right keys, we should be straight.”

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters.

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