Kalyja Waialae had a great start to 2018.
Yet, an argument could be made that the Green Valley senior wide receiver was upstaged Friday — if only by a little bit — by diminutive junior running back Maaliek Duncan during the Gators’ 34-20 season-opening home victory over Moapa Valley.
Waialae did catch seven passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
But Duncan proved the workhorse offensively, helping Green Valley control the clock by moving the ball regularly on the ground. Duncan rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
“He’s not the biggest kid,” said Green Valley coach Brian Castro of his 5-foot-6-inch ball carrier. “But he’s a tough guy. He plays his heart out.”
Though the Gators eventually pulled away, it actually was Moapa Valley that made the game’s first big play.
Green Valley took the opening kickoff and promptly marched from its own 20-yard line to the Pirates’ 30 in seven plays. On the eighth play, quarterback Garrett Castro dropped to pass and let the ball go.
Moapa Valley defender Josh Cox made a quick little jump and somehow the ball stuck under his arm. Cox had a clear field going the other way for a 65-yard interception return that gave the Pirates the early lead, 7-0, with 9 minutes, 27 seconds left in the first quarter.
Green Valley answered with an 18-play drive, going 73 yards to cut the deficit to 7-6 with 3:17 left. It turned into the start of a Gator onslaught.
“It was just practice all week,” Waialae said. “We had our best practice in our last practice. That made us have the motivation to get out here and win.”
Green Valley got all it needed to put the game away in a span of 3:45 of the second quarter.
Though the Gators controlled the ball and the clock for virtually the entire first quarter, they still trailed 7-6 when they first touched the ball again with 9:09 left in the second quarter.
After two Duncan carries for 34 yards, Garrett Castro connected with Waialae on a short ball that the senior receiver turned into a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 13-7 lead.
Two plays later, a Moapa Valley fumble gave the ball back to the Gators at the Pirates’ 47-yard line. Three plays after that, Duncan juked and cut his way for 28 yards, giving Green Valley a 20-7 lead with 6:54 left in the half.
The Gators then surprised Moapa with an onside kick, recovered it, and went 42 yards in nine plays capped by Desmond Bowers’ 14-yard run with 4:33 left in the half. That gave the Gators a 27-7 lead.
“Sometimes you need to score in spurts,” Coach Castro said.
By the time the Pirates got their only real refreshment on this sweltering opening Friday night, courtesy of the sprinklers along their sideline inadvertantly turning on with just less than 10 minutes to play in the game, the outcome had been decided.
“We’ve got some things to clean up,” Coach Castro said. “But I think everybody does this time of the year. I’m happy we came away with the win. We’ll take it.”