Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015 | 1 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer spend some extra time on the three biggest games of the week — Arbor View at Desert Pines, Chandler (Arizona) at Bishop Gorman and Liberty at Saint Louis (Hawaii) — before getting to their full picks. They also discuss the hypothetical first pick of a high school football fantasy draft.
The referees called for team captains to come to midfield for the coin toss Friday night before the Desert Pines and Arbor View high school football game. But Desert Pines was missing one of its five captains — Anthony Smith, who last week tore his ACL and will be out for the season.
So, the others improvised.
Vasa Hansell and Natron Auelua-Naki carried Smith’s No. 55 jersey to midfield, showing the team’s determination to persevere in his absence.
Smith is a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end who Rivals.com calls Nevada’s top college recruit for 2016. Losing one of the city’s best was a big blow for a Desert Pines team already short-handed because another top recruit, senior offensive lineman Samuel Poutasi, is also out following ACL surgery.
But not only did Desert Pines beat Arbor View in a battle of the city’s top-5 teams, the Jaguars made a statement with a convincing 50-14 victory. While players and coaches were confident they’d beat Arbor View in a game billed as one of the best of the season, not in their wildest imagination could they picture scoring 50 points and winning by five touchdowns.
“With Anthony getting injured, that just brought us closer together,” senior Trevor Nofoa said.
Poutasi, who is expected back next month, spent the game wildly yelling encouragement from the bench. He pushed Smith, who had surgery early in the day and still had his hospital socks on, up and down the sideline in a wheelchair.
Their appearance gave teammates an extra boost — not that they needed the motivation. Players and school officials raved about coach Tico Rodriguez’s pregame speech, claiming his message was so powerful they all sensed a great performance would follow.
“We talked about our brotherhood at Desert Pines and how most first games are a little sloppy because kids are more worried about stats,” he said. “But this is a different game. I needed their best because we were playing for more than us. It was for Anthony and Sam.”
When he left the locker room, he was confident in the outcome.
“I saw something in their eyes, a focus, a 1,000-yard stare,” Rodriguez said. “I knew we would play well and play hard. But I didn’t think we’d score 50 against them. That’s Arbor View, a great program.”
But Arbor View had no answers for the Desert Pines speed. Isaiah Morris rushed for 246 yards on 13 carries, including going untouched for an 82-yard touchdown run with seconds remaining in the third quarter for a 34-14 advantage.
Anthony Smith interview
The game, though, was far from over. Desert Pines held a similar lead in its last game, squandering a three-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter against Moapa Valley last November in the Division I-A state championship game. It couldn’t happen again, right?
With about 10 minutes remaining, the Jaguars had the ball around the Arbor View 40-yard line needing one yard for a first down on a fourth-down play. A first down would put the game out of reach. An Arbor View stop would spell late-game trouble again.
Desert Pines gave the ball to Nofoa, who rumbled for 6 yards and a first down.
“Nofoa is our hammer. You ask him four 4 yards and he’ll get you 5,” Rodriguez said.
Junior Randell Grimes, a Sierra Vista transfer, was sensational in his debut. His 85-yard touchdown reception with 5:12 remaining in the third quarter was a thing of beauty — he caught the ball over the middle and, like Morris earlier in the game, outraced the defense to the endzone — to give Desert Pines a 22-7 lead.
Grimes finished with 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for another long score on a fake punt, but it was called back because of a penalty. Quarterback Marckell Grayson rushed for two touchdowns and passed for another, Andrew Gray passed for a touchdown and Jordan Diggs closed the scoring with a touchdown run.
More important, the Desert Pines defense — minus Smith — didn’t allow a point in the final 15 minutes as the Jaguars scored 28 unanswered points to close the game. Players such as defensive lineman Angel Torres and Hansell at linebacker were leaders in Smith’s place.
“When we see him hurt, we are hurt,” Torres said. “I don’t like my brother being hurt. It’s tough not to see him play because he’s been playing (hard) for me the last four years.”
The roller coaster of emotions from this game will soon die down. Desert Pines plays Mojave, a team not in the top 10, next week. And it’s still August.
Duplicating the effort and results, especially without Smith, will be Rodriguez’s next challenge.
“They are all like brothers,” the coach said. “There was no way we were going to lose this game. It was for Anthony.”