Try as it might, Sierra Vista’s football team just couldn’t shake Durango on Friday night.
But when the Mountain Lions needed a big play, it usually was senior safety Kaika Faatiliga making it.
Faatiliga intercepted two passes and rushed for a touchdown as Sierra Vista held on for a 34-26 win over the visiting Trailblazers.
“They did a nice job of making big plays when they had to,” Sierra Vista coach John Foss said. “We gave up a couple pretty easy touchdowns, but they made some good corrections. They’re tough kids, and they do what they can to be successful.”
Durango jumped on the Mountain Lions (6-1, 5-0 Southwest League) early, taking a 12-0 lead in the first quarter.
But Sierra Vista responded with a big second quarter, as running backs Isaiah Zavala and Bryan LaGrange each had two rushing touchdowns, giving the Mountain Lions a 27-12 halftime lead.
LaGrange stole the momentum with a 30-yard TD run on a play in which he appeared to be stopped near the line of scrimmage. But LaGrange kept his feet churning, put his hand on the ground to regain balance and sprinted away from the defenders for a touchdown that gave the Mountain Lions a 14-12 lead.
After LaGrange added a 5-yard TD run with 56 seconds left in the first half, Faatiliga came up with the first of his big plays, when he tiptoed the sidelines to intercept a pass with 31 seconds left.
Trevor Gentner then hit Kevin McCray with a 39-yard pass on the first play of the drive — the only Sierra Vista completion of the night — to move the ball to the 4-yard line, and Zavala plowed his way in to make it 27-12 at the half.
Durango (5-2, 3-1) responded on its opening drive of the second half when Kaden Renshaw hit Kevin O’Neill with a 77-yard scoring pass to cut the lead to 27-20.
But Faatiliga’s second interception on the final play of the third quarter snared the momentum again. The Mountain Lions drove 47 yards, capped by Faatiliga’s 19-yard TD run, for a 34-20 advantage with 9:48 to play.
“My coach kept yelling at me for not covering the right dude, so I had to cover him,” Faatiliga said. “And it pays off. I saw the ball and I caught it and took it back for the offense.”
Durango cut the lead to 34-26 on Ka’Ron Shomo’s second TD run of the night, this one from 1-yard, with 7:28 left. The Trailblazers had chances to tie, but their final two possessions ended in an interception and a turnover on downs.
“It was pretty mind-blowing,” Faatiliga said. “We didn’t think they were going to come out like that. But we fixed our mistakes and we got on.”
The victory brought the Mountain Lions close to a home playoff berth, and Foss said the goal is to win a postseason game this season.
“We want to show that we’re actually a team that’s just as good as some of those Northwest (League) teams,” Foss said. “I know their division’s a lot better, but that’s our goal. Everybody says the Southwest is really weak, and (that’s) probably true. But we just want to show that we’re an up-and-coming program in the city.”