The stakes in the regular-season finale between Mojave and Las Vegas High were pretty straightforward — only the winner would be able to keep playing next week with a playoff berth.
For most of the game, it seemed like that team would be Las Vegas. The Wildcats, with their storied history and 18 straight seasons of making the playoffs, played like the favorites throughout the first three quarters.
With 44 seconds remaining, however, Mojave’s Noah Thompson rushed for a game-winning touchdown from 8 yards out to clinch a 20-17 road victory on Thursday night.
Just like that, the Rattlers, who moved up to the 4A division this season, secured the final playoff spot in the Northeast League and ended the Wildcats’ streak.
“We told our kids that they would have to give a perfect effort,” Mojave coach Abraham Gonzalez said. “I felt like a lot of people wrote us off this year, but we’re here and we made it.”
Down 17-12 midway through the fourth quarter, the Rattlers seemed poised to take the lead. Mojave drove 49 yards to the Las Vegas 10-yard line. However, defensive back James Dunn intercepted a pass from K’maurian Philogene and put the Wildcats in a good position to hold the lead.
The momentum shift proved to be short-lived as Mojave’s Isaiah Harper returned the favor by getting an interception three plays later with 5 minutes remaining. That set up the eight-play, 49-yard game-winning drive.
With a cut from the outside into the middle of the field, Thompson scored the go-ahead touchdown.
“By the way they were playing their defensive ends, I knew they were going to try to flush me all the way out to the sidelines,” the senior said. “I saw a cut-back, and I just took it. My blockers were there and I got a touchdown.”
Las Vegas (3-7, 1-4) kept Mojave (4-6, 2-3) and its rushing attack in check for the first two quarters. By halftime, the game’s only score was Cody Summer’s 5-yard rushing touchdown from the Wildcat’s first possession.
Mojave didn’t get on the scoreboard until early in the third quarter when Thompson broke free for a 51-yard run to make it 7-6.
After Las Vegas extended its lead with a field goal, Mojave faced a 10-6 deficit going into the final quarter. De’vann Underwood gave the Rattlers their first lead of the day early in the fourth with a 35-yard touchdown run. Underwood led all rushers with 188 yards on 26 carries.
On the next play from scrimmage, Las Vegas quarterback Ja’Shawn Scroggins found receiver Miles Davis for a 48-yard touchdown.
“In the first half, we made a lot of mistakes,” Gonzalez said. “Coming into the fourth quarter, I told them that we’ve got to make that effort. We’re a lot better team and it wasn’t showing.”
Mojave will take on No. 1 seed Arbor View next week in the first round of the Mountain Region playoffs.