Last week’s physical game in Idaho took a toll on Mojave, and Rattlers coach Joe Delgado wasn’t sure how his depleted roster would respond Friday night at home against Chaparral.
Then he lost his starting quarterback Zack Arave to a shoulder injury early in the second quarter after the 5-foot-9-inch, 160-pound senior got drilled on a kickoff return.
“Throwing any second-string quarterback in the middle of a tough game is very difficult,” Delgado said.
But junior Lamaja Cunningham took command from the moment he took over the offense and led the Rattlers to a 32-26 victory, culminating with his game-winning 23-yard touchdown run with 2:26 left in the contest.
After holding the Cowboys on fourth-and-goal, Mojave (2-0) took over at its own 23-yard line, benefitted from a key helmet-to-helmet penalty on Chaparral’s Richard Hernandez – an infraction that moved the ball past midfield – and rode the arm and legs of Cunningham to the win.
During the seven-play drive, Cunningham rushed three times for 42 yards and threw a perfect 21-yard strike to Marcus Parker to set up the go-ahead score.
Cunningham completed 3 of 5 passes for 31 yards, while he finished with 73 yards on 15 rushing attempts and one touchdown.
“We have a great core of leaders, the seniors, and I just fed off their leadership,” Cunningham said. “My team brought me together and told me they had my back. It felt like I had the whole team behind me to help me win. They built up my confidence level.”
Running back Ty Flanagan led the Rattlers’ speedy rushing game with 105 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Flanagan also caught two passes for 30 yards, including a 29-yard TD strike from Arave in the first quarter.
Before suffering his injury, Arave went 3-for-4 for 75 yards and two TDs, and he ran for 43 yards and a score on five carries.
Casey Acosta led Chaparral (0-2) with 110 yards and a TD on 10 rushes. Acosta returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown.
“They definitely took the momentum away in the second half to start; that kickoff return definitely deflated us,” Delgado said. “It’s tough when you have a lot of injuries. I can’t take anything away from Chaparral, they came out hungry, they had nothing to lose and they gave us the fight of their lives. It felt like they had a little more heart than we had in this game.”
The Cowboys erased a 26-12 halftime deficit by outscoring Mojave 14-0 in the third quarter. Chaparral forced a three-and-out after Acosta’s touchdown return, then marched down the field in eight plays to tie the game when Jerome Williamson hit Maharie Trotter for an 18-yard TD pass midway through the quarter.
Mojave regained the momentum by halting Chaparral’s late fourth-quarter drive. The Cowboys reached Mojave’s 6-yard line, but an illegal-procedure penalty and four plays that netted minus-17 yards set up Mojave for its game-winning drive.
“Due to how close the game was, you don’t want to take a lot of chances,” Delgado said. “But luckily (Cunningham) is a great athlete, and he just stepped it up for us. He played phenomenal.”