Friday, Nov. 12, 2010 | 12:48 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss their failed attempt to predict the Southwest and Northwest divisions at the beginning of the season and break down this week's six playoff matchups.
With several dynamic offensive players typically at the center of most victories, the Las Vegas High football team’s defense is often overlooked.
That was far from the case Thursday night.
The Wildcats’ defense, a unit that starts nine seniors, was the difference in a 13-10 victory against visiting Foothill in the Sunrise Regional semifinals.
On most nights, it is the senior wide receiver combination of Cameron Rogers and Marquan Major stealing the spotlight, or quarterback Hassan Henderson and running back Farrell Victor scoring the decisive touchdowns.
Against Foothill, however, Rogers and Majors combined for one reception — well below the 85 grabs in 11 games they entered with — and Henderson had arguably his worst performance of the year in completing just 4 of 10 passes for 39 yards and an interception.
Sophomore kicker Jay Mattox, who played on the soccer team last year, turned out being Las Vegas’ best weapon. His 27-yard field goal with 2:41 remaining, his second field goal of the night, was the game winner.
Give credit for the defense for making the kick stand.
Foothill (10-2) got the ball back with 2:36 to play, which was plenty of time to score the go-ahead points. But Las Vegas’ defense tightened and Dominique Smith recovered a fumble on a desperation fourth-down play with less than 50 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“We are just prepared for every game. It’s preparation, preparation, preparation,” Smith said. “Our coaches will stay after practice or a team meal to study with us. They put in the work with us.”
Las Vegas (11-1) had four sacks in the second half, including one on Foothill’s final drive. The Wildcats' defensive line was in the Foothill backfield several times and helped limit the Falcons to negative 7 yards on 18 carries.
The biggest defensive stand came in the first quarter.
Foothill’s Dominic LaRocco blocked a Las Vegas punt and recovered the ball at the Wildcats’ 7-yard line. However, Las Vegas limited Foothill to a field goal and 3-0 lead.
“This is the time of the year when the team that plays the best defense moves on,” Las Vegas coach Chris Faircloth said.
A 20-yard field goal from Mattox on Las Vegas’ next possession evened the score at 3. It stayed tied until the second half.
Foothill went on a 14-play drive to open the second half, but Las Vegas forced the Falcons to turn the ball over on downs. Las Vegas responded with a long drive of its own, using 15 plays to take a 10-3 lead on a 2-yard scoring run from Victor with 11:11 left.
Foothill was far from finished.
The Falcons wasted no time in driving the length of the field on its next possession to tie the game at 10. Quarterback Parker Riggin completed passes of 31, 21 and 7 yards to three different receivers to bring the ball inside the Las Vegas 10-yard line.
Miles Killebrew scored on a 3-yard run to cap the comeback.
“It was a great game to be part of,” Foothill coach Marty Redmond said. “Both teams busted their butts and gave everything they had.”
Foothill, which last year beat Las Vegas in the Sunrise quarterfinals to snap the Wildcats streak of six consecutive regional crowns, showed it is one of the region’s best teams. It gave Las Vegas more than it could handle and arguably should have won the game.
“They were 10-1, too,” Faircloth said. “We knew this was going to be a low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game.”
The 5-foot-11, 150-pound Riggin, who became the Southeast Division’s top passer, was calm under pressure. He scrambled to convert several plays in the second half and had his team organized all night.
Despite the gusty effort, the Falcons came up just short.
“We definitely have one of the best defensive teams in the region, and that showed tonight,” Riggin said. “When our offense gets going, no one can stop us. It just didn’t get going tonight.”
Las Vegas advances to next Friday’s Sunrise title game. It will host Liberty at 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to the state semifinals in Northern Nevada.