OVERTON — There is a large banner that covers a fence at one end of Jeff Keel Field. Listed on it are the years of the 16 state championships won by Moapa Valley football program over the years.
Just in case anybody forgot.
“I really kind of felt like we weren’t getting the respect we deserved,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “Everyone was handing Desert Pines the trophy, and no way in hell were our kids just going to hand them the trophy. We were going to make them earn it.”
Down and nearly out, the host Pirates showed their championship mettle late in the fourth quarter Friday and gutted out a 13-12 victory over No. 4 Desert Pines in the Division I-A state quarterfinals.
R.J. Hubert scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 4-yard run with 1:29 remaining for defending state champion Moapa Valley (10-1), which will host Elko at a time and date to be determined in the semifinals.
“We’ve never lost a playoff game on this field, and kept continuously preaching that we didn’t plan on losing,” Lewis said. “That wasn’t even in our thoughts. We were going to give everything we had to Desert Pines, and I thought we did.”
Hubert, a Utah commit, finished with 84 yards rushing and two scores to go with an interception and a key fumble recovery in the fourth quarter as the seventh-ranked Pirates avenged a 34-20 loss to Desert Pines on Sept. 11.
The Jaguars (8-3) were later forced to forfeit that win for using an ineligible player, which helped set up this meeting of top-10 teams early in the postseason.
Desert Pines led 12-7 in the fourth quarter and had the ball with 7:08 remaining after Eddie Heckard intercepted Pirates quarterback Nate Cox in the end zone. The Jaguars started at their own 8-yard line and moved the ball to the 41 before Hubert recovered a fumble with 3:29 left to play, setting up Moapa Valley near midfield.
Six plays later, the Pirates went into their bag of tricks, and Jay Mortensen found Jacob Leavitt on a reverse-pass for a 24-yard gain to Desert Pines’ 7-yard line with 1:55 left in the fourth.
“Hey, it’s tough to score on those guys,” Lewis said. “We had to pull something out of our hat.”
On the next play, Cox took a hard hit, and the Jaguars recovered the fumble, but officials ruled Cox was down. Following a timeout, Hubert lined up in the wildcat formation and scored his second touchdown of the game to put Moapa Valley up 13-12 with 1:29 remaining.
“My team relies on me to make plays with the ball, and I was willing to step up to the plate,” Hubert said. “We put a great drive together.”
Desert Pines got the ball back at its own 20, but Mortensen intercepted Marckell Grayson to seal the Pirates’ victory.
“It shows our resilience, it shows we never quit,” Hubert said. “We trust the process, and we believe in the coaches. You’re either all in or in the way, so we get a great commitment from everyone.”
Desert Pines, which lost leading rusher Isaiah Morris to an ankle injury in the second quarter, had only 65 total yards at halftime as the Pirates used their ground game to chew up clock. Moapa Valley dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 14:31 in the first half and heading into the locker room up 7-0 after Hubert’s 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The Jaguars picked up the tempo on offense in the second half, marching 71 yards in nine plays on its opening possession. Grayson capped the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Randal Grimes on fourth-and-10, but Desert Pines missed the extra-point attempt, which would prove costly.
Desert Pines went ahead 12-7 with 1:00 left in the third quarter as Dominique Washington intercepted Cox, and Trevor Nofoa capped an 11-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run. Nofoa had a team-high 52 yards rushing in place of Morris.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle coming back in Moapa and playing here,” Jaguars coach Tico Rodriguez said. “We knew it was going to be a war, and it was. The ball just didn’t bounce for us at the end.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.