Las Vegas Sun's Ray Brewer and Case Keefer break down whether the Rattlers or Patriots have any chance to pull off the upset of the year.
Liberty High football coach Rich Muraco isn’t bashful when discussing the opponent the Patriots will face at 2 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals.
Most of what Muraco has done in building the program has been with one goal: Beating Bishop Gorman. Gorman is the eight-time defending state champion, and in the last three seasons has beaten the Patriots (11-1) by the mercy rule running clock in the state playoffs.
Even after last season, when the Patriots lost 84-8 in the state championship game, Muraco didn't stop believing. That’s the message he constantly delivers to players — and not only this week. Preparing for Gorman is something they seem to always be indirectly working toward.
“I told the kids today, nothing in life worth having comes easy,” Muraco said. “When we do eventually beat Bishop Gorman, it is going to make it that much sweeter.”
The Gaels again have a major Division I recruit at quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA), and at the skilled positions with receivers Brevin Jordan (Miami) and Speedy Nailor (Arizona State). But, unlike past seasons when the Patriots defense couldn’t match Gorman athlete for athlete, Muraco feels the team’s defense is up to the challenge.
Liberty, the eight-time Sunrise champion, has surrendered 111 points in 12 games, including a streak of three straight shutouts. If you take out one bad game (half, actually) at American Heritage of Florida, the Patriots have been solid every week. And undefeated American Heritage is expected to win the Florida state championship, meaning a 31-0 defeat by Liberty isn’t that bad of a black eye.
“We are going to treat it like any other week,” said Crishaun Lappin, Liberty’s senior defensive lineman, who has 48 tackles (13 for a loss) and 11.5 sacks this season. “Gorman is a great team; they have phenomenal players and phenomenal coaches. We are looking forward to playing them.”
This Liberty team has a bond that arguably isn't as strong in past seasons because of managing unexpected adversity. Metro Police officer Charleston Hartfield, who coached many Liberty players in youth football, was one of the 58 killed Oct. 1 in the mass shooting on the Strip. Two weeks ago, running back Kishon Pitts lost his father in an incident with police.
With each tragedy, football took a back seat. In the days after the mass shooting, practices turned into therapy sessions. And when Pitts' father died, the program coordinated a fundraiser for the family.
“I got into coaching not because of trying to get wins or state championships. I wanted to be an educator to make a difference in the life of kids,” Muraco said. “In these tragic times is when you can make the most impact. Being there for them and seeing the heartbreak has been tough. It really does point a perspective on wins and loses.”
Muraco has lived through many long afternoons watching the deficit grow against Gorman. He knows the helpless feeling of knowing the season will shortly end and waking up the following morning after a 72-point defeat. But he also knows his program’s time will come — and possibly Friday.