Needles had clawed its way back into Saturday’s Class 2A state football championship game and had Pershing County facing a third-and-14 situation.
Then Pershing County came up with the biggest play of the game. Ricky Reitz lofted a pass to a wide-open Samuel Bokori for a 60-yard touchdown, and Pershing County went on to defeat Needles 30-18 at Bishop Gorman for its third consecutive state championship.
“We had them pinned a couple times, and they made the plays when they needed to,” Needles coach Matt Fromelt said. “That’s why they are the three-time defending champs.”
The long TD pass was the first of two big plays for Pershing County (11-1) in the third quarter. Jayce Leyva returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown with 1:19 to go to push the lead to 30-12.
Needles (9-3) got a break on its next possession when a pass from Nathan Parker was nearly intercepted in the end zone. Instead, it went off Jesus Acosta’s hands, and Needles’ John Perez snagged the ball in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 30-18.
But Needles’ next two possessions finished with interceptions, effectively ending the team’s chances.
Needles came into the game with a big-play offense that included four rushers averaging more than 10 yards per carry. But that offense never got untracked on Saturday.
Star running back Marcus Turner, who had rushed for 1,510 yards and 27 TDs entering play, finished with 49 yards on 15 carries. Needles had only one play of more than 30 yards.
“We just couldn’t get the ball rolling,” Fromelt said. “They’re a great D. They bottled us up.”
Needles used a trick play to get on the board when receiver Dawsen Yeager went in motion and took a handoff from Parker. He then tossed a 12-yard pass to a wide-open Perez to cut the lead to 10-6 with 2:54 to go in the first half.
Reitz broke off a 62-yard run on an option keeper to make it 17-6, but Needles was able to drive the length of the field, and Parker hit Turner with an 8-yard scoring pass on the final play of the first half to make it 17-12.
Doogie Harvey had four tackles for loss and caught four passes for 48 yards for Needles.
“These kids did a great job,” Fromelt said. “They worked their tail off all season. And it’s a great accomplishment making the state championship and being the state runner-up. I couldn’t be more proud of the team and their effort.”