Clinging to a 38-34 fourth-quarter lead Friday at Chaparral, Moapa Valley faced a fourth down with three yards to go on the Cowboys’ 34 yard line.
In a game that already had five lead changes, the Pirates could have punted and tried to stop Chaparral from retaking the lead.
Instead, Moapa Valley went for the knockout.
Pirates quarterback Daxton Longman lofted a pass down the middle of the field to wide receiver Dayton Wolfley, who out-jumped a defender to snare the pass and jaunt into the end zone. That all but sealed the victory, and the Pirates went on to win 53-40.
The win secured the No. 2 seed in the Sunrise League for Moapa Valley (6-3, 3-1 Sunrise), which will host Pahrump Valley Thursday in the first round of Class 3A playoffs. Chaparral (4-5, 2-2) will travel to Cheyenne for its first-round playoff game.
Longman said the clinching touchdown pass against Chaparral was thanks to the Cowboys defense focusing on stopping the Pirate rushing attack, which racked up 216 yards in the game.
“They were keying on our running back so much, there was no safety out there,” said Longman, who also rushed for a score in the game. “I actually got hit on that throw, which kind of made it a shorter pass, but that actually worked out in our favor. And it was a good play by our receiver, a good heads-up play.”
Moapa Valley also made a number of heads-up plays on defense, as the Pirates looted the Cowboys for six turnovers: four interceptions and two fumbles.
Trailing 27-26 at halftime, Jacob Leavitt’s interception sparked the Pirates’ first rally of the second half. His pick and 30-yard return brought the ball to the Cowboy 16. He then ran it in for a score on the next play to give the Pirates the lead, 32-27.
Leavitt finished with 23 carries for 191 yards and three touchdowns.
Chaparral responded on the strength of a 20-yard touchdown run down the middle of the field by Jacob Ford with 4:22 left in the third quarter to take a 34-32 advantage.
But Moapa Valley answered just four plays later on Jacob Leavitt’s zig-zagging, 45-yard run to the end zone to put the Pirates back on top, 38-34. That led to Longman’s fourth-down TD pass to Wolfley, and Chaparral never threatened the Pirates again.
“I think we just wanted it more,” Leavitt said. “All season we have gotten better as a team. And we don’t quit.”
Chaparral had controlled the first quarter, scoring on its first two drives to take a 14-0 lead. Vialpando connected with Tyran Collins on a 9-yard TD pass to open the scoring, and Ford bulled into the end zone from 2 yards out.
Kentrell Petite had 10 receptions for 111 yards and two scores for Chaparral. Ford rushed for 93 yards and a pair of TDs for the Cowboys.
The Pirates exploded for 26 points in the first 4:41 of the second quarter to take their first lead.
Longman hit Dayton Wolfley over the middle for a 45-yard TD strike to get Moapa Valley on the board. Then one play after the Pirates defense stuffed the Cowboys on fourth-and-1, Leavitt took a pitch left and zipped down the sideline 51 yards to tie the game at 14-14.
Derek Reese then nabbed an interception off a deflection on Chaparral’s first play of the next drive, and two plays later Dalyn Leavitt took it up the middle 5 yards for the score to give the Pirates their first lead 20-14 with 7:40 left in the quarter.
Dalyn Leavitt made a return trip to the end zone on the first play of Cowboys’ next offensive possession, picking off a pass and darting 49 yards to the house to make it 26-14.
“It was just about execution. Our execution level went way up (in the second quarter),” Dalyn Leavitt said. “That’s one of the things we have stressed all season.”
Chaparral took the lead back behind quarterback Santiago Vialpando, who tossed a 28-yard TD to Devin Gaddy and a 13-yard touchdown strike to Kentrell Petite to give the Cowboys a 27-26 halftime lead.
Dalyn Leavitt said the way the Pirates kept responding each time Chaparral came back also showed Moapa Valley’s season-long improvement.
“That was huge. It’s all about confidence level and how this team has progressed throughout the season,” he said. “Earlier in the season I think we would have stumbled. Another thing we stressed is finishing, and we did that.”
The Pirates scored 21 straight points in the second half to push the lead to 52-34 before Chaparral scored with 11 seconds left for the game’s final margin.
Dalyn Leavitt said getting the win to earn the right to host Thursday’s playoff game was a great reward for his team showing resiliency.
“That’s huge! We love playing at home,” he said. “There is something special about playing in Overton. It’s a different atmosphere and we love it.”