Gators shake off sloppy start to down Las Vegas

Green Valley’s plan Friday was to come out with a balanced offensive attack.

The Gators started sloppy, but eventually achieved that objective to defeat visiting Las Vegas 44-31 in a Sunrise Region quarterfinal.

Austin Warhop rushed 14 times for 117 yards and a touchdown to lead Green Valley, which will visit second-ranked Liberty in a region semifinal next week.

The Gators (6-4) looked strong on their opening drive, but were forced to settle for a 30-yard Spencer Cofer field goal.

The Wildcats (6-4) answered in just one play when Zach Matlock connected with Diquan Brown for a 77-yard TD to go ahead 7-3 with 9:21 left in the first quarter.

The Gators reclaimed the lead late in the quarter with a 6-yard Austin Warhop TD plunge up the middle, but Las Vegas again had a quick answer, going ahead 14-10 on a 59-yard run by Elijah Hicks.

“We were pretty sloppy in the first half,” said Gators coach Brian Castro. “That gave (the Wildcats) new life at times.”

But Green Valley’s defense settled down in the second quarter, and a 21-yard rushing TD by A.J. Amelburu and a 25-yard pass from Amelburu to Marquez Powell gave the Gators a 24-17 halftime lead.

Momentum turned for good when the Wildcats opened the second half by fumbling the initial kickoff out of bounds at their own 1-yard line. They kept possession, but fumbled again three plays later, and the Gators took advantage with a 20-yard drive that culminated with a 2-yard Amelburu TD run.

“That was huge,” Castro said. “We’ve been asking our defense to do a lot. They got some stops and made some big plays when they needed to.”

Green Valley erased all doubt late in the third by stopping a Wildcats drive at the 1-yard line.

“Any time you get an opportunity like that, you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Castro said.

The Gators did, scoring on a 27-yard field goal by Cofer early in the fourth, and again on a 1-yard TD plunge by Chance Faitau to go ahead 41-17 with 6:06 to play.

Las Vegas scored on Eljah Hicks’ 57-yard run with 4:48 left, but Cofer’s 41-yarder with 1:06 to play sealed the win for the Gators.

Ryan Friemuth caught a 5-yard TD pass from Ronnie Broadhead with six seconds left for the Wildcats.

“We knew (the Wildcats) were fighters,” Castro said. “At halftime, we talked to our guys about going out and finishing the game, and they did.”

Amelburu completed 9 of 20 passes for 100 yards, and he added 69 yards and two TDs on 14 carries.

Matlock completed 16 of 28 passes for 190 yards to lead Las Vegas. Hicks added 143 yards on 13 carries.