Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014 | 12:53 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss Canyon Springs' upset victory over Liberty before debating the top 10 rankings in the wake of non-league play ending. Yeah, boy.
A three-game losing streak to finish nonleague play is a distant memory for the Las Vegas High football team.
The Wildcats won the game that mattered most.
Las Vegas opened Northeast League play Friday with a thrilling 30-27 victory against host Canyon Springs, scoring 20 unanswered points to start the game and holding on in the final seconds with Canyon Springs threatening to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Canyon Springs had the ball at the Las Vegas 13-yard line trailing by three points with 23 seconds remaining when the Las Vegas defense took over.
Linebacker Jacob Littlefield got to Canyon Springs quarterback Bradley Alexander II on first down for a sack to push Canyon Springs back. On the next play, multiple Las Vegas defenders got into the backfield, including Littlefield’s younger brother, Cruz, and Dante Ortiz sacked Alexander to force a fumble. Will Pierrot recovered the fumble to seal the Las Vegas victory and start a celebration on the Las Vegas sideline.
“We didn’t make as many mistakes on our own,” Las Vegas coach James Thurman said. “That is what we talked about all week. If we could take care of the football and take care of ourselves, we could do some great things. Canyon Springs is a great football team, but we couldn’t worry about playing them as much as playing ourselves.”
Las Vegas hit the reset button on its season this week, refocusing at practice and evaluating what went wrong in the losing streak. Turnovers and other mistakes were simply too much to overcome.
“We practiced so hard this week. Everyone was so focused,” Jacob Littlefield said. “We knew it was a new season after league play started. We are 1-0. The 2-3 record before is gone. We are going to work our way to contend for the region, but first the division.”
The came out swinging in the first quarter.
Las Vegas scored 17 points in the initial six minutes, including a pair of Trevor Swenson touchdown passes nine seconds apart. Swenson connected with Zach Loveland for a 10-yard touchdown pass for a 10-0 Las Vegas lead.
After Canyon Springs couldn’t handle the ensuing kickoff to give Las Vegas the ball inside the Canyon Springs 10, Swenson connected with Hanoi Rabago for an 8-yard scoring strike.
After spending all week working on making changes, it was the start Thurman was looking for. But, because the Canyon Springs-Las Vegas rivalry is always closely contested, he knew Canyon Springs would rally.
Thurman planned on telling players at halftime to expect a rally from Canyon Springs in the second half. Then, right before halftime, Canyon Springs showed it still had a lot of fight.
They blocked a Las Vegas field goal on the last play of the half, which was recovered by Alexander and returned 82 yards for a touchdown and 20-7 halftime deficit.
“I already had told my coaches that we were going to gather (players) before we went into the locker room and talk to them about the fact we were still in a football game,” Thurman said. “Then, they block a field goal, and there is no doubt we are in a football game.”
Canyon Springs did all the scoring in the third quarter, using a pair of touchdown runs from Jerrod Blackwell to even the score at 20 entering the fourth quarter. On the second play of the quarter, Las Vegas retook the lead for good on a Swenson 6-yard touchdown pass to Elias Miller. Astrid Catalan added a short field goal for a 30-20 lead, setting the stage for one last Canyon Springs comeback.
Kujuan Casey caught a 20-yard touchdown from Alexander to trim the deficit to three points. Canyon Springs then forced Las Vegas to punt to get the ball back near midfield with about one minute remaining.
And while Canyon Springs couldn’t score, coach Hunkie Cooper said his team had nothing to be ashamed of. The loss creates a logjam in the Northeast standings. Last week, Canyon Springs upset Liberty to open its league schedule, becoming the first Sunrise team in 40 games to beat Liberty.
“When you dig a hole with a 20-0 (deficit) in the first quarter, that is a lot of digging. We dug that hole with a tractor and had to fill it back up with a spoon,” Cooper said.