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Reserves lead Liberty to win over Coronado

As one of the top programs in Southern Nevada, Liberty always seems to have good depth on its football squad.

Having multiple players at each position helped the Patriots on Friday as a backup quarterback and a pair of reserve running backs led the way in a 40-0 victory over host Coronado.

Kanyon Stoneking threw three touchdowns passes after coming on in relief late in the first quarter, and Caleb Pulu rushed for two touchdowns as the Patriots’ third-string running back.

While the backups stepped in with big games, the Liberty defense recorded its second consecutive shutout. The Patriots have allowed seven combined points in their last three games.

The Patriots (5-4, 4-1 Southeast League) earned the top seed from the Southeast League and will host Desert Oasis in a first-round playoff game next week.

“We are showing we are one of the top teams,” Patriots senior defensive lineman Luke Toomalatai said. “This win gives us momentum heading into the playoffs.”

Meanwhile, the Cougars (4-5, 2-3) fell into a three-way tie for third place with Green Valley and Basic, but missed out on the postseason on a tiebreaker.

The Cougars came in hoping their double-wing offensive ground attack would cause some confusion. Instead, Coronado was stuffed on the ground and couldn’t get any thing going through the air.

“It was a lot of bad luck and nothing went our way,” Cougars coach Terry Riddle said.

Coronado’s bad luck started midway through the first quarter. After being stopped for a three-and-out, the Patriots punted. The punt hit a Cougars player who was attempting to block on the play and Liberty recovered and had a first-and-10 on the Coronado 24-yard line. Six plays later, Pulu barreled in from 5 yards out for a 7-0 lead.

Late in the first quarter, Liberty starting quarterback Lonenoa Faoa scrambled for a 10-yard gain on a third-and-8 play. Faoa aggravated a knee injury and left the game for precautionary reasons.

In came Stoneking. The junior threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Moliki Matavao early in the second quarter for a 14-0 Patriots lead.

“It was my opportunity to show what I can do,” Stoneking said. “I am more of a pocket passer, so the coaches geared things more toward the passing side for me.”

Stoneking added a 3-yard scoring pass to Matavao and an 18-yard TD pass to Mana Moniz before halftime, putting the Patriots up 28-0.

Liberty running back Edward Gastelum rushed 16 times for 107 yards in the place of injured back Zyrus Fiaseu.

However, Gastelum suffered a rib injury late in the third quarter which paved the way for Pulu to get a few more carries. Pulu finished with 10 rushes for 81 yards and added a 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Jared Tufele also had a 2-yard rushing score for Liberty in the third period.

Stoneking finished 9-for-16 passing for 134 yards.

“We are more ground-oriented this year,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “But if we can control the ball and with the way our defense is playing, we have a chance. We just can’t look ahead, but rather concentrate on our next opponent.”

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