The regular-season meeting between Liberty and Foothill was a treat for local football fans, as the Patriots won a 49-41 thriller at Foothill.
It also left both coaches with a feeling that their defenses needed to improve.
Those units will get that chance Friday, when Foothill (9-2) visits Liberty (10-1) in the Sunrise Region championship game at 7 p.m. with a spot in the Class 4A state semifinals at stake.
“Our kids are really motivated to prove that we are an elite defense, not a defense that lets up 40 points,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “And their kids are going to be just as motivated on their defensive side as our kids are.”
Defending region champion Liberty has posted two shutouts and also played well defensively in a 42-6 victory over Valley in the Sunrise quarterfinals.
Foothill coach Martin Redmond senses his defense also is better in comparison to the regular-season loss to Liberty.
“I feel like we’ve played more physical and learned our responsibilities, and played good team defense,” he said. “Our offense always scores. The biggest thing is learning how to play defensively as a team and win those close games.”
Liberty defensive end Kimo Seau has been a force, with 42½ tackles and a team-high 8½ sacks. But the senior was blunt in his assessment of the regular-season victory over Foothill.
“The only positive out of that game was our offense,” Seau said. “The only reason we won was our offense, because they were constantly scoring points. Our defense, it was like we didn’t show up for that game.
“We know our defense is good, (but) we just have to come out Friday and play good, physical Patriots defense.”
Both offenses bring plenty of firepower.
Liberty’s run game is fueled by Niko Kapeli, the area’s leading rusher with 2,183 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Foothill boasts a potent passing attack behind a breakout season by sophomore Drew Doxtator, who has passed for 2,416 yards and 34 TDs while throwing only five interceptions.
“Our offensive line is very good this year, and I have a lot of playmakers,” Doxtator said. “It’s helped me a lot being able to step in on varsity and be comfortable.”
Doxtator has been impressive spreading the ball around, but his top target is senior receiver Kyle Keplinger, who has 62 catches for 943 yards and 17 TDs.
“They’re a great football team, and their offense is probably the best offense we’ve faced all year,” Muraco said. “They’ve got arguably one of the top two or three players in the state in Keplinger.”
Muraco said his players and coaches embrace the chance to repeat as region champions, especially after several of the current seniors went 4-5 in 2008.
“For a lot of these kids who have been in the program, they remember the bleak days of Liberty football when we weren’t winning many games,” Muraco said. “They’ve taken ownership and they’re proud of the team. It’s exciting as a coach to be part of that.”