There is a real chance that Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley will meet again in the Class 3A state football playoffs.
But don’t expect either team to take Friday’s rivalry game lightly.
The Bulldogs (5-2, 1-0) visit the Pirates (5-2, 0-0) in a Class 3A Southern League contest at 7 p.m. Friday in the final 3A regular-season meeting of the storied rivalry before realignment takes place next season.
“It’s no different than any other year. This is the game you get up for,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “We’ve played seven football games just to get ready for this one.”
Virgin Valley opened league play with a 14-0 shutout of Boulder City on Sept. 30, while Moapa Valley will wrap up the regular season at Boulder City on Oct. 27.
The top two teams in the league will meet in the state quarterfinals Nov. 4 or 5, meaning Friday’s game will give the winner the inside track for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“It always seems to come down to these last few games, us against Moapa,” Virgin Valley coach Kirk Hafen said. “We’re excited to go down there and play.
“I’m sure it’s the same down in Moapa. There’s a different excitement that’s just hard to explain. It’s always a fun game.”
The Pirates have looked as strong as they have been in years, opening the season with a win over Show Low (Ariz.) in the Sollenberger Classic before going 4-1 against 4A teams, a stretch that included a victory at Del Sol.
Moapa Valley boasts a powerful run game keyed by juniors Conner Mortensen (819 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Sean McConnell (486 yards, 11 TDs).
“I knew (Mortensen) was going to be special, but he’s kind of exceeded my expectations, too,” Lewis said. “Conner has definitely emerged.”
Senior quarterback Dakota Watters has given the Pirates a balanced offense. The first-year starter has passed for 862 yards and seven touchdowns. His favorite target is Shane Terril, who has 25 receptions for 423 yards and a score.
“We’ve become more balanced, and I really like how our running game has come along,” Lewis said. “Knocking heads with Del Sol and Legacy, we proved we can hold our own. Our running game has kind of become our staple. It’s allowed us to use our play-action pass a little more.”
Meanwhile, defense has been one of Virgin Valley’s strengths for most of the season. The Bulldogs allowed a total of 35 points in three wins over 4A teams to open the season, and have a shutout to their credit in the only 3A game this year.
“I don’t think I can name one individual,” Hafen said when asked who the key to success has been. “We’re putting our defensive backs in a lot of man-to-man coverage and bringing a lot of people. And Nick Hansen has done a great job as defensive coordinator.”
Hafen said slowing down Moapa Valley’s running game has been priority No. 1 in recent practices.
“They’ve got two really good backs and a really good line,” Hafen said. “We’ve got to try to stop their running game.”
Virgin Valley also has a third-year veteran to lean on in senior quarterback Humberto Urias.
The Bulldogs are looking for their first win over Moapa Valley since the 2007 regular-season finale, but both meetings in 2010 were decided by 12 or fewer points.
“I just want to see them play hard, play their hearts out,” Hafen said. “If we can put together four quarters, we’re in a good situation. We’re going to have to play really well to beat them.”
Both teams have a mutual respect for each other, and wouldn’t mind claiming the coveted hammer prize after shaking hands.
“This game, in my mind, is the best rivalry in the state of Nevada,” Lewis said. “People who aren’t around here, they should come out and see it. Both towns empty out. It’s just an awesome high school football environment.”
HISTORY ON LINE — A piece of state history will be on the line in another rivalry game this week.
When Pahranagat Valley (6-0, 3-0 1A Southern) visits Tonopah (3-3, 2-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, the Panthers will be going for their 41st consecutive win. That would tie the state record set by The Meadows from 1998 to 2001.
Pahranagat Valley nearly saw its streak snapped before pulling out a 50-42 win at Joshua Springs (Calif.) on Sept. 2, but has won by a combined score of 196-17 through its first three league games.