For a school jockeying for its first playoff win in eleven years, Green Valley came out of the gates Friday night like a seasoned thoroughbred.
The host Gators, the No. 2 seed in the Southeast, raced out to a 32-0 halftime lead and eliminated Desert Pines 32-12 in a Sunrise Region quarterfinal playoff game.
Senior quarterback Nick Libonati marched his team on a 67 yard scoring drive on its first possession, capped off by a 10 yard Quincy Bagsby TD run. Green Valley never looked back.
“We came out on fire and really jumped on them ,” said third year coach Matt Gerber, who served as an assistant coach for Green Valley the last time they won a playoff game. “It was kind of the reverse of this year where we slept-walked through the first half in a lot of games.”
Libonati, who finished the game with 95 passing yards, added two second quarter TD passes to senior wide receiver Skyler Holloway en route to the huge halftime margin.
The visiting Jaguars, the Northeast’s No. 3 seed, lost starting quarterback Dalton Leilua to an ankle sprain with 4:14 left in the first quarter and managed only 6 yards from scrimmage in the first half.
“To lose your quarterback on the second play of your second series really hurts with continuity,” said a disappointed Desert Pines coach Paul Bennett. “I think when they saw Dalton go down the kind of hung their heads.”
Two Desert Pines fumbles aided in Green Valley building its early lead. Donovan Bosque recovered Leilua’s fumble on the Desert Pines 9 yard line on the Jaguars’ first offensive possession, resulting in a Nolan Kohorst 33 yard field goal, giving Green Valley a 10-0 lead.
Gator defensive back Dallas Halasz picked up a fumble by Desert Pines running back Derrick Shaw early in the second quarter and raced 30 yards for a touchdown.
Green Valley (8-3) added a two-point conversion, when Kohorst faked the PAT and threw a short pass in the end zone to Kyle Larimer, giving the Gators an 18-0 lead.
Bennett’s son Paul Bennett, Jr., who came in to relieve the injured Leilua at quarterback, rallied Desert Pines in the second half with two second half touchdown drives.
The junior quarterback threw a 5 yard TD pass to Anthony Ruiz to finish off a 10-play, 61 yard drive early in the third quarter for the Jaguars first score.
Dennis Scott capped off a 65-yard fourth quarter drive with a 1 yard TD run for the game’s final score.
Bennett hopes his team will build on this playoff experience.
“We’re very young so we’ll keep going to work and get out there and do some things,” said Bennett.
Green Valley moves on to face Las Vegas next week.
“This was one of our main goals this year (to get a playoff win),” said Gerber. “Our goal now is to advance. We’ll take it one week at a time.”