Ralph Freso / Special to the Sun
Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012 | 6:36 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer are back with a comprehensive — or some would say long-winded — look at high school football. They go division-by-division and team-by-team in this exhaustive 2012 debut. So settle in on the couch with a Snuggie or plan to make a round-trip drive from Boulder City to Shadow Ridge in order to listen to this one.
GLENDALE, Ariz.— This series symbolized a first game full of mistakes for the Moapa Valley High football team Saturday night.
With four minutes remaining during the Sollenberger Classic’s small-school game at the University of Phoenix Stadium and the Pirates trailing by 15 points, they caught a small break when Blue Ridge High fumbled trying to run out the clock.
After a few pass completions, Moapa Valley brought the ball to the Blue Ridge 1-yard line. However, they failed to score on four straight plays, eventually losing 23-14.
The series, which included a 5-yard illegal procedure penalty and a quarterback overthrowing an open receiver in the end zone, resembled most of the game for the Overton school.
“You have to give credit to Blue Ridge,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “They were the more disciplined football team. But I have really have to say we gave them a lot of gifts tonight. It seemed like most of the things they got was beneficial for us giving it to them.
“I thought we played well enough to win if we can figure out how to run a play once in awhile.”
Moapa Valley suffered through four turnovers, nine penalties for 76 yards and more than its share of mental mistakes.
Last year, Moapa Valley rallied for a 28-26 victory in the Sollenberger game, using a strong running game and perfectly executing down the stretch for the victory.
Even though Conner Mortensen rushed for a game high 112 yards on 19 carries this year, Moapa Valley struggled to rally when it had to pass. The Pirates’ three quarterback combined to go 6-for-15 for 70 yards with three interceptions.
“We knew we were going to have quarterback issues,” Lewis said. “I was waiting for one of those kids to step up and take the reigns. It is just the little things — calling the right formation, sending the guy in motion. We are struggling with the little things.
“I know we can fix those things, and once we do, we are a much better football team.”
Four minutes later, however, Blue Ridge’s Ben Watson returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown and 14-8 Blue Ridge lead. The Arizona school would never again trail.
Moapa Valley’s defense was solid all night in limited Blue Ridge to 266 yards, but 70 of those came on a long touchdown reception by Watson for a 7-0 lead with 58 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
While Moapa Valley didn’t open its season like last year, they are still expected to be a Nevada power and make a deep playoff run. They’ve reached the state title game the past three seasons.
“We weren’t able to focus. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot,” Mortensen said. “We have to be better mentally. We have to get more reps with our quarterbacks in practice. We have potential to be a good passing team. We just have to find it.”
The Sollenberger game, like it did last year, gives them plenty of valuable experience to make the rest of the season equally memorable. Win or lose, playing in the event — which, of course, is hosted at a NFL stadium — is a game the players won’t soon forget.
That’s especially true for Sean McConnell, who returned a punt 40 yards for a touchdown on the game’s final play.
“We were disappointed with the loss, but this was still fun,” Mortensen said. “It’s always fun to be here.”