After watching Rancho march 73 yards on eight plays to tie the score at 21, Desert Pines coach Paul Bennett knew his team needed a big play.
The Jaguars got it on the ensuing kickoff.
Quincy Fields fielded the kick at the 1, handed it to Davion Toney at the 5, and Toney raced the final 95 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown with 6:16 to go in the third quarter. That gave Desert Pines (3-3, 3-1 Northeast League) the momentum, and the Jaguars held on for a 41-28 home victory over the Rams (3-4, 2-2).
“That was huge,” Bennett said. “They had all the momentum in the world off of that drive. They had us reeling. And that return, that really helped us. That turned the game.”
After taking the lead, the Jaguars marched 72 yards on their next possession, with Ri’Chard Green catching a screen pass from Trey Robello and sprinting 53 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown and a 35-21 lead.
From there, the Jaguars battled a lack of depth as much as Rancho. Desert Pines was already without third-leading rusher Chancellor Davis, who didn’t dress for the game. Second-leading rusher Derrick Shaw went down with an injury in the first half.
The Jaguars also had three players ejected for running onto the field during a skirmish in the third quarter.
“We’re thin as it is,” Bennett said. “People were dropping like flies, and we hung in there and did what we had to do. Guys stepped up when they needed to.”
Leading rusher Leon Hayes was one of several players going both ways, many of whom needed help from the trainer after cramping.
“It was hard,” Hayes said. “We had to fight through the injuries and cramps. We had to be strong.”
Rancho cut the lead to 35-28 on a 9-yard TD run by Will Gosse-Gardet with 11:14 to play, but Desert Pines iced the game with an eight-play, 60-yard drive capped by a 9-yard TD run by Hayes with 3:11 to go.
“In the first half we were dominating, and then in the second half we had to fight for it,” Hayes said. “Rancho stepped it up, but we just had to step up and be the bigger team.”
Hayes rushed for 110 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. He had TD runs of 8 and 14 yards in the first quarter.
“He ran hard for us, which he always does,” Bennett said. “He’s a quiet assassin.”
The Jaguars also got a big defensive play in the second quarter when O’Darius Mitchell intercepted a Gosse-Gardet pass and returned it 62 yards for a TD to put Desert Pines up 21-6.
Hayes said that TD and the kick return helped give the offense a boost.
“They helped out a lot, because when we didn’t have any energy it just gave us that extra boost, that second wind, for us to keep going,” Hayes said.
Robello completed 10 of 15 passes for 218 yards and the touchdown, and Green added 60 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Gosse-Gardet had touchdown runs of 1 yard, 3 yards and 9 yards. He also passed for 129 yards. Teammate Shamel David ran for 199 yards on 18 carries. David had a 62-yard TD run in the first quarter.
The Jaguars have won three straight and are alone in third place in the Northeast, a game behind co-leaders Las Vegas and Canyon Springs.
“If we play out and do what we have to do, we might have a shot for second place,” Bennett said. “Or a three-way tie. You never know.”