He never imagined just how good.
The junior running back/wide receiver scored five touchdowns to spark the sixth-ranked Falcons to a 35-26 victory over Desert Pines in the Sunrise Region quarterfinals at Foothill.
“I had a really good feeling about this game,” said Keplinger, who scored four offensive touchdowns and one on special teams. “I was psyched up for it all week.”
Keplinger wasted no time demonstrating his enthusiasm, capping the Falcons’ first possession with a 23-yard touchdown reception from Parker Riggin for a 7-0 lead.
But Foothill (10-1) made its share of first-half mistakes, allowing the Jaguars (5-5) to make it 7-6 when Ri’Chard Green returned an interception off Riggin 55 yards for a TD with 5:11 to play in the first quarter.
Keplinger answered with a 3-yard TD run early in the second, but Riggin was again intercepted with 5:54 left in the half. Derrick Shaw converted the opportunity one play later with a 33-yard scoring run to lift the Jaguars to within 14-12.
Keplinger again responded, diving for a 1-yard TD to give Foothill a 21-12 halftime advantage.
Though the Falcons held the Jaguars to 46 yards in the first half, Desert Pines came out swinging to start the third quarter. Shaw plowed up the middle for a 1-yard TD midway through the third to make it 21-20.
Keplinger stopped the bleeding on the ensuing kick with a 98-yard TD return to make it 28-20.
“We wanted to get some momentum going,” he said. “And we did.”
Desert Pines battled back one more time, cutting the deficit to 28-26 on a 5-yard TD run by Shaw, but Keplinger’s 16-yard scoring sprint gave Foothill a 35-26 lead with 7:33 remaining.
“Kyle is an explosive player,” said Falcons coach Martin Redmond, whose team will play at Las Vegas in the Sunrise semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday. “We try to get him the ball because we know he makes plays.”
Foothill’s defense took over down the stretch, and Desert Pines never threatened again.
“Our defense always steps up big,” Redmond said. “They did again tonight.”
Keplinger finished with 40 yards on 13 carries and 97 yards on four receptions. Riggin completed 12 of 19 passes for 186 yards.
Leon Hayes rushed 20 times for 132 yards for the Jaguars, and Shaw finished with 75 yards on 14 carries.
Las Vegas 37, Del Sol 10 — At Las Vegas High, Lamond Powe and Farrell Victor combined to rush for 286 yards and Jay Mattox kicked three field goals, lifting the fourth-ranked Wildcats (10-1) over the defending state 4A runners-up in a Sunrise Region quarterfinal.
Powe gained 166 yards on 14 carries, including a 42-yard touchdown, and Victor supplied 120 on 14 carries, with a 16-yard score. Their scores came in the first half when the Wildcats took a 27-7 lead.
Mattox, a sophomore, kicked field goals of 42, 39 and 19 yards.
Hasaan Henderson added an 85-yard TD pass to Cameron Rogers. Henderson completed 10 of 19 passes for 159 yards and also ran for a 1-yard score.
Las Vegas’ defense limited Southeast qualifier Del Sol (5-6) to 108 total yards, 58 on the ground. Chris Marshall had an 8-yard touchdown, but was held to 25 yards on nine carries.
Liberty (9-1) will shoot for their second home playoff win Thursday as they will host Canyon Springs in a Sunrise semifinal game.
Against Rancho Friday, the Patriots controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, controlled the clock, and contolled the visiting Rams for the majority of the game.
Liberty’s defense held Rancho’s 1,000-yard rusher Shamel David to only 16 yards. Overall, the Patriot defense held the Rams to 34 rushing yards.
Patriot junior defensive end Kimo Seau said stopping the run was less about Rancho but more about Liberty getting back to basics.
“We really want to get back to playing good run defense,” said Seau. “Last year that’s what we were known for, but this year it’s been kind of shaky. So we were coming out hard-hitting tonight and trying to bring that back to Liberty.”
The Patriot defense was particularly impressive in the second half in limiting Rancho to 36 total yards.
On offense, Liberty hit the Rams (5-6) with a balanced attack.
The Patriots established the run as usual, with Niko Kapeli leading the way with 17 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown, and Teu Tai and Ty Bird each adding touchdown runs.
But Nacua’s pair of first-half touchdown passes helped Liberty keep the Rancho defense off balance.
Rancho still had a chance to make things interesting in the second quarter.
Trailing 14-0, Rancho’s Diante Rainwater hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Will Gosse-Gardet to trim the Liberty lead to eight. The Ram defense then held the Patriots to a 3-and-out on the next possession, and Rancho’s offense took the ball and drove to the Liberty 42 and appeared to be driving to trim the lead even further.
But at that point, Liberty’s defense stiffened, forcing the Rams into a pair of incompletions on third and fourth down.
The Patriots took over on offense, and eight plays later, Nauca hit Andrew Martinez with a 43-yard TD pass down the middle of the field, and Liberty pushed it’s lead to 20-7.
Reinke, who missed much of the third and fourth quarter with the injury, scored on an 11-yard run to put Indian Springs on top in a shootout. He finished with 29 carries for 312 yards and six touchdowns, also scoring on runs of 20, 30, 20, 80 and 6 yards.
Reinke also completed 7 of 16 passed for 113 yards, including a 40-yard scoring strike to Xavier Pena.
Spring Mountain led 48-36 in the third quarter before Reinke scored on a 6-yard run and completed a 2-point conversion pass to Pena.
After Reinke’s final touchdown, Spring Mountain drove to the Indian Springs 20 before taking a holding penalty and eventually throwing an interception.
Alistair Houpe scored on TD runs of 20, 40 and 45 yards for Spring Mountain. Malcom Brown rushed for one score and threw two TD passes for Spring Mountain.
Pahranagat Valley 68, Tonopah 12 — At Alamo, Cody Hosier completed 15 of 18 passes for 227 yards and six touchdowns as the top-seeded Panthers (10-0) ousted the No. 4 Muckers (5-5) in a Class 1A state quarterfinal.
Hosier hooked up with Kale Leavitt on scoring strikes of 25, 17 and 12 yards, twice with Tyler Higbee (15 and 1) and another with Kade Wadsworth (7).
Chase Hansen supplied 130 yards and two scores on nine carries for Pahranagat, and Leavitt made five catches for 103 yards.
Tonopah’s Cedric Kirby rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts. Seth Littlefield passed for 110 yards and a score.