Las Vegas High was aiming to beat Valley in its season finale Thursday to secure a home game in the opening round of the Sunrise Region playoffs next week.
However, a smaller motivation led to the biggest play of the game: Wildcat helmet stickers.
Senior running back Elijah Hicks galloped for a 90-yard touchdown run with 26 seconds left in the second quarter to put the Wildcats up 19-0, propelling them to a 26-12 home win over the Vikings.
Las Vegas (3-6, 3-1 Northeast League) secured the No. 2 seed in the Northeast with the win and will host Foothill in the first round.
Hicks, who finished with 210 yards rushing and two scores on 21 carries, said he told his teammates they had a chance to earn a coveted Wildcat helmet sticker when they took over possession on their own 10-yard line with 45 seconds left before halftime.
“If you get a 90-yard drive, you get a Cat sticker for it,” Hicks said. “So, I told the offensive line and the receivers ‘Let’s go and get this 90-yard drive before half so we can get that cat sticker.’”
The drive took all of one play and 19 seconds, securing both the sticker and the score, as Hicks took the handoff up the middle, then bounced left to the sideline and won the footrace to the goal line.
The play was a stunning turnaround, as Valley had the ball at the Wildcats’ 10-yard line and was looking to cut into the 13-0 deficit.
But the Wildcats defense stuffed Valley for no gain on a fourth-down rushing play, setting up Hicks’ sticker-worthy score on the next snap.
The Las Vegas defense held Valley to just 86 yards in the first half. Senior defensive back Jermiah McCants set the tone early, as he came up with an interception on the Vikings’ first offensive play of the game, hauling in the errant pass at the Wildcats’ 49.
“I just wanted to come in and shut things down,” said McCants, who had one of Las Vegas’ two first-half takeways on defense. “Our defense did the job and I was able to get the pick.”
Eight plays later, Hicks took a handoff up the middle at the Vikings’ 14 and bounced the run out to the right and zipped to the goal line and put Vegas on the board, 7-0.
“The offensive line was just giving a great effort tonight,” Hicks said. “This game was very important for us. The coaches said let’s do this for our seniors so they can have another home game, so this won’t be their last home game.”
Quarterback Zach Matlock threw for 155 yards, including TD passes of 22 and 24 yards, as Las Vegas built a 26-0 lead in the third quarter.
Endy Diaz threw for 145 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns for Valley (4-5, 2-2), which finished as the No. 3 seed and will travel to Green Valley for the Vikings’ playoff opener Friday.
As for Las Vegas, Hicks said the Wildcats feel well seasoned and on the upswing heading into the playoffs.
“We came in with more confidence since we are on a streak right now,” he said. “We played a lot of tough teams through the season. That helped us prepare and get our mindset right for the rest of the season and make us better.”