With Las Vegas High driving early in the second quarter and looking to extend its early lead, Canyon Springs was in need of a spark.
Junior safety Johnathan Bailey provided it.
Bailey intercepted a pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown, and the seventh-ranked Pioneers never relinquished the lead in a 21-13 road win over No. 8 Las Vegas.
“I felt like that kind of gave us that little push that we needed,” Bailey said, “because our offense was kind of struggling.”
The Wildcats (4-2, 0-1 Northeast League) led 3-0 and had driven to the Canyon Springs 12. Las Vegas quarterback Zach Matlock tried to feed the ball to Jack Hernandez, but the ball went off his hands. Bailey was in the right spot, and he caught the ball in stride and streaked down the left sideline to give the Pioneers the advantage.
“My coach just put me in a position to make a good play,” Bailey said. “I just saw the ball, and it was just there. And then my defensive players came and made key blocks to make me get in the end zone.”
The big play didn’t surprise Canyon Springs coach Gus McNair. In fact, it’s what he’s come to expect from his defense.
“Any time we get down in the red zone, we get tougher,” McNair said. “They take pride in not giving up points. That Basic game was tough for them, when they gave up all those points. They vowed that they didn’t want to give up points like that again.”
The Pioneers (6-1, 2-0) yielded 30 points against Basic, but have allowed only one offensive touchdown in two games since.
Las Vegas came into the game averaging 229.6 rushing yards and was coming off a season-high 299-yard effort. But the Wildcats managed only 139 yards on the ground Friday.
Canyon Springs was helped by the fact that both of Las Vegas’ talented junior running backs — Elijah Hicks and DiQuan Brown — left the game with injuries.
“We just keyed their running backs,” Bailey said. “We just had to shut them down. And we were lucky for them to go out. We didn’t want them to get injured, but we just had to stop them from running how they’d been running on everybody else.”
Diamante Burton hit Karon Woods with a 39-yard TD pass with 5:11 left in the second quarter, but Las Vegas responded with its own defensive touchdown when Erick Williams picked off a Burton pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-10 at halftime.
Burton capped a seven-play, 74-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run with 6:25 left to give the Pioneers some breathing room. Jayvion Pugh, who finished with a game-high 95 rushing yards, had a 46-yard run to key the drive.
Las Vegas emptied its backfield and put together a fourth-quarter drive, but had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Ricardo Ortega with 2:58 to play, and the Wildcats never got the ball back.
Brown led Las Vegas with 93 yards on 13 carries but didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
Canyon Springs now has the leg up in the Northeast. The other three teams in the league — Eldorado, Valley and Rancho — are a combined 3-17.
“Like everybody’s been saying, this is kind of like the championship,” Bailey said. “We’ve just got to take it. We can’t just sleep on (Eldorado) and Rancho, but other than that, we’ll have the banner.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters