Wildcats exploit early break vs. Pioneers

It appeared to be a big play for Canyon Springs’ special teams.

But blocking a field goal turned into a nightmare for the host Pioneers on Friday.

Canyon Springs tried to recover the loose ball but fumbled, giving the ball back to Las Vegas. The fifth-ranked Wildcats took advantage of the turnover to score the first touchdown and held on to defeat the Pioneers, 24-14.

“It turned the whole game around,” said Las Vegas wide receiver Saeveon Butler, who made eight receptions for 121 yards. “A lot of us had our heads down, and that gave us a lot of momentum.”

The blocked kick came on a 38-yard field-goal attempt by Mike Flores, and the fumble gave the ball back to Las Vegas (5-1, 3-0 Northeast League) at the Canyon Springs 15.

Farrell Victor rushed for a touchdown on the next play, and Flores’ kick made the score 7-0 with 8:32 left in the first half.

“We did take advantage of it,” Las Vegas coach Chris Faircloth said. “That helped us a lot. Momentum’s such a big thing in this game.”

Flores made a 37-yard field goal with 6:45 remaining in the third quarter to make it 10-0 before No. 9 Canyon Springs (4-2, 3-1) showed some life.

A 70-yard kickoff return by Malik Brown set up a 22-yard TD pass from Tyler Ward to Leo Wills to make it 10-6.

Las Vegas answered on the first play of the ensuing drive, scoring on a 74-yard TD pass from Hasaan Henderson to Butler, bumping the Wildcats’ lead to 17-6.

Ward and Wills hooked up again for Canyon Springs on a 70-yard pass play to the Las Vegas 7, and Deavin Rimmey ran it in from there. Ward’s 2-point conversion run lifted the Pioneers to within 17-14.

“We had (the momentum), and we thought we were in good shape, and then they got the momentum back and it was a scrap from there on out,” Faircloth said.

Canyon Springs threatened anew by driving inside the Las Vegas 10 midway through the third quarter, but a 25-yard field-goal attempt by Devin Fleischer sailed wide right, and Las Vegas stayed ahead.

It was the second time the Pioneers had come up empty inside the Las Vegas 10. Their final drive of the first half ended when Ward was stopped inches from the goal line on fourth-and-goal.

“Our defense was outstanding,” Faircloth said. “They turned back many chances that Canyon Springs had to score, and they did a great job. They hung in there all night.”

Victor, a sophomore, finished with 188 yards on 26 carries, including a 41-yard touchdown run to seal the Wildcats’ victory with 1:12 to play.

“He’s a heck of a back,” Faircloth said. “We had the entire intention of just grinding him with the ball.”

Henderson missed last week’s game against Chaparral with an ankle injury. He came back to complete 16 of 23 passes for 168 yards, though Faircloth said the sophomore’s mobility was limited.

“He’s going to give you everything he’s got,” Faircloth said. “(Henderson and Victor) are both sophomores, and they’re learning on the job.”

Rimmey rushed for 100 yards on 18 carries for Canyon Springs.