Liberty (Nev.) High head coach Rich Muraco knows what his Patriots football team is getting itself into Saturday night.
The five-time defending Sunrise Regional champions invade Aloha Stadium to face Saint Louis, ranked No. 35 in the country according to MaxPreps.com and No. 2 in the state of Hawaii. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and will be live blogged here on HawaiiPrepWorld.com.
The Patriots have established themselves as the best team in their region, but to compete for the state of Nevada, the road goes through national powerhouse Bishop Gorman. In three of the last four years, the Patriots season has ended with a loss to Bishop Gorman in either the state semifinals or finals.
Muraco is hopeful he can better prepare his team for that eventual showdown by taking on the two highest ranked teams in Hawaii, Saint Louis and Mililani, in back-to-back weeks to open the season.
“Everything we do is to try and compete with Bishop Gorman and teams like Saint Louis and Mililani are going to give us that experience we need,” Muraco said prior to Friday’s practice at Aloha Stadium. “We know (Saint Louis) is an elite program. That’s why we wanted to take this game and kind of set our standards on getting ready for Bishop Gorman.”
Muraco is excited to see his team perform in an environment like the one expected Saturday night. He admitted he’s lost a lot on his defense from last year, which could be a problem against the Crusaders. Saint Louis junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has thrown for 2,731 yards and 37 touchdowns in only 11 career games. He also has his starting running back, Jahred Silofau, back from last year as well as a slew of talented receivers behind a big offensive line.
Stopping them completely isn’t going to happen, Muraco admitted, so he might have to lean on his own talented underclassman at quarterback, sophomore Kenyon Oblad, to keep Tagovailoa and company off the field.
“Their quarterback is a special kid,” Muraco said. “We’re going to have to try to contain him. Hopefully we keep up with them scoring-wise. It’s probably going to be a shootout.”
It seems like every game for Saint Louis has been a shootout since Cal Lee took over last year. The lowest combined point goal in any game for Saint Louis last year was 62 (a 55-7 loss to Punahou). Once Tagovailoa took over as the starting quarterback and got comfortable on the varsity level, things really got crazy. Saint Louis has scored at least 46 points in seven of its last eight games.
Where Saint Louis has improved this year is on defense. Saturday’s game will give linebackers Jordan Iosefa and Isaac Slade-Matautia, as well as defensive back Luca Vartic, a chance to show just how much of a difference they can make.
Many think the Crusaders can dethrone defending state champion Mililani this year because of the improvement on defense. The Patriots are hoping to close the gap with Bishop Gorman. Saturday will give both teams a glimpse of how close they are to achieving those goals.