GLENDALE, Ariz. — Moapa Valley’s first trip to the Sollenberger Classic couldn’t have gone much better, as the Pirates claimed a two-point win over Show Low (Ariz.) last August.
Ben Watson made sure this year’s Sollenberger Classic wouldn’t be so much fun for the Pirates.
Watson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and also scored on a long pass play to help Blue Ridge (Ariz.) to a 23-14 victory Saturday over Moapa Valley at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I’ve got to give credit to Blue Ridge,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “They were the more disciplined football team. But I’ve really got to say, I thought we gave them a lot of gifts tonight.”
Watson opened the scoring with a 70-yard TD reception from Skyler Hill. The play started harmlessly enough, as Watson caught an 8-yard curl. But he spun away from a Moapa Valley defender, then slipped a shoestring tackle and sprinted down the sidelines for the score with 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
After Moapa Valley had taken an 8-7 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Conner Mortensen and a 2-point conversion, Watson came up with his second big play, picking off a Josh Repp pass and returning it 34 yards for a TD and a 14-8 lead.
Lewis pointed to those two plays as turning points.
“That was basically a missed tackle on our part,” Lewis said of the long scoring pass. “We had a guy out there and missed a tackle. And on the one pick they returned for a touchdown, we had exactly what we wanted and just ran the play wrong. If we run the right play, it’s a touchdown. That’s how football goes. If you don’t run it right, bad things can happen.”
The Yellow Jackets extended their lead to 23-8 on a 4-yard touchdown run by Bradley Syth and a 32-yard field goal by Cody McBride.
After Moapa Valley recovered a fumble with 4:06 left, the Pirates looked to have a shot to get back into the game. But Mortensen was stuffed at the 1 on fourth-and-goal with 1:35 left to end the threat.
Blue Ridge was forced to punt with seven seconds left. Moapa Valley’s Sean McConnell bobbled the ball but scooped it up and returned it 40 yards, diving across the goal line with no time left.
Mortensen finished with 109 yards on 19 carries for the Pirates, who turned the ball over three times and were whistled for 76 yards of penalties.
“It’s real early,” Lewis said. “This is just one game, a preseason game. Although it’s on this big stage, the importance of it is pretty meaningless in the big scope of things. We’re playing for a state championship. It would be nice to take the Sollenberger trophy home again with us, but we learned a lot. And I guarantee we’ll get better.”