Gio Hernandez gave Green Valley’s football team an offensive boost on the first play of the game Friday night.
The Gators’ defense made sure the team didn’t relinquish that momentum.
Hernandez scored on an 80-yard pass play from Christian Lopez on the game’s first play from scrimmage, and Green Valley forced five turnovers on the way to a 43-14 road win over Las Vegas High.
“Our defense is playing really well,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said. “They’re getting better every week. We’ve got some guys flying around, and the coaches are putting them in the right spot, and it’s a good thing for us.”
The sixth-ranked Gators (5-1, 2-0 Northeast League) turned four of the five turnovers into points.
“We just knew what they were going to do when they did it, and we just executed perfectly,” said senior defensive back Mitchell Barry, who intercepted two passes. “I couldn’t be more proud of my defense.”
Hernandez found himself open over the middle on the first play, and Chavez hit him near the Green Valley 35. But the junior all-purpose player wasn’t done, bouncing to the outside and fighting off tacklers for the score to set the tone.
“Momentum’s always huge, especially in high school sports,” Castro said. “You can really ride it for a while, and it was important for us to get off to a good start.”
Green Valley’s defense then took control. No. 9 Las Vegas (4-2, 1-1) didn’t record its first first down until the final nine minutes of the first half. And while the Gators had 80 yards of offense after one play, the Wildcats didn’t match that total until the third quarter.
Cody Milner intercepted a pass by Trevor Swenson on Las Vegas’ second possession, and that set up a 3-yard TD run by Hernandez with 5:13 to go in the half that put the Gators up 13-0.
Barry made it interceptions on consecutive passes when he made a leaping catch in front of a Las Vegas receiver on the Wildcats’ next offensive play. Three plays later, Gino Jonassaint scored on a 2-yard run for a 19-0 advantage with 4:07 to go in the opening quarter.
Green Valley outgained Las Vegas 300-75 in yards of offense in the first half and took a 22-7 lead into the break.
The Wildcats’ offense started to show signs of life early in the second half, but the Gators forced a fumble, and defensive lineman Preston Quirt pounced on the loose ball.
That set up a 38-yard touchdown pass from Lopez to wide receiver Albert Lake with 7:48 to go in the third quarter as the Gators extended their lead to 29-7.
Las Vegas then stepped up defensively, stripping Jonassaint inside the Green Valley 5, and Jacob Littlefield returned the fumble 3 yards for a touchdown to pull the Wildcats within 29-14 with 3:41 left in the third quarter.
But Barry intercepted his second pass of the game, setting up a 6-yard TD run by Lopez with 1:04 to go in the quarter.
Castro said the team wasn’t sure how much of a factor Barry would be this season, after the senior broke his jaw in July.
“He came into this year and had an injury this summer and overcame it, and he’s been a great player in our secondary,” Castro said. “He’s just another guy who continues to get better every week.”
The same can be said for Hernandez, who finished with 153 yards on 23 carries. He also had two catches for 100 yards and recorded a tackle for loss.
“He’s a playmaker for us,” Castro said. “When we give him the ball, it really helps take the pressure off us for sure. He’s a hard-nosed kid. He fights for every yard. And this game was important to him.”
Lopez completed 13 of 25 passes for 259 yards and three TDs as the Gators totaled 484 yards of offense.
“The biggest thing with this group is they’re getting more confident every week,” Castro said. “We knew, too, if we jumped on them early, we would have a shot to win the football game.”