Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 | 12:56 a.m.
The loudest natural sound of celebration imaginable for a Southern Nevada high school football game began well before RJ Hubert crossed the goal line for a game-winning touchdown Friday night.
The initial shriek from the jam-packed home stands startled unsuspecting visitors seconds before, as soon as the Moapa Valley senior receiver/running back received a direct snap at the 6-yard line. Everyone outfitted in blue and yellow seemed to have an implicit faith that one of the best players in school history would find the end zone with a minute and a half left in the game.
“This valley has a lot of pride for their football,” Hubert said. “They love us so much, so yeah, I could hear them. We could definitely hear them.”
Moapa Valley extended a streak of never losing a home playoff game while keeping alive its hopes of winning back-to-back state championships. The Pirates eliminated their stiffest competition, as the Jaguars were the only team ranked above them in the Division 1-A.
Desert Pines beat Moapa Valley in the same venue earlier in the season, though later forfeited the victory for using an ineligible player. The Jaguars felt they still needed to avenge last year’s state championship loss to the Pirates, but fell short.
“With everyone handing these guys the trophy, I think this win feels a little bigger,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “The problem is, it’s the quarterfinals instead of the state finals. It’s a shame one of us has to go home. It’s two great teams that are evenly matched.”
The difference on Friday was a transcendent performance from the best player on the field. With Desert Pines junior running back Isaiah Morris hobbled and limited by an injury, Hubert had no match.
The Utah commit willed Moapa Valley to the game’s only first-half points with a 9-yard rushing touchdown where he broke multiple tackles a play after getting his team into the red zone with a 16-yard run. It was just the start of a night where Hubert had 104 yards of total offense, four pass break-ups on defense, an interception and a fumble recovery.
“I just know how much my team needs me, how much they rely on me,” Hubert said. “They love me, and I love them. We’re a family, really.”
Behind Hubert and senior running back Trystin Deal, who had 13 carries for 70 yards, Moapa Valley racked up twice the number of yards totaled by Desert Pines in the first half. But the Jaguars’ defense, led by big games from seniors Angel Torres and Vasa Hansell, held the Pirates off the board deep in their own territory twice.
Lewis had a gnawing feeling the failure to get more than a touchdown would haunt his team, and sure enough, Desert Pines came out of the locker room flying. The Jaguars scored on two of their three third-quarter possessions with junior quarterback Marckell Grayson, who threw for 138 yards and rushed for 42 yards, finding his rhythm.
Grayson hit junior Randal Grimes with a 30-yard touchdown eight minutes before senior running back Trevor Nofoa, the Jaguars’ leading rusher on the night with 49 yards, powered in a score.
“They got momentum going and these guys are such a momentum team,” Lewis said. “It was tough to stop them.”
The saving grace was Deal bursting through the line to block the extra-point attempt on the first touchdown. The middle of the defense, which starred senior Chase Traasdahl all night, held strong to thwart a two-point conversion on the second touchdown.
Moapa Valley nearly answered midway through the fourth quarter when it reached the 9-yard line on a couple of option pitches to Hubert. But the Pirates struggled to get Hubert the ball in open space again during the possession, and suffered a turnover on downs.
Desert Pines drained the clock with two first downs before Nofoa fumbled, and Hubert constricted his arms like they were pythons around the loose ball at the 36-yard line with just more than three minutes to go.
Three plays later, Lewis dialed up a double-reverse pass where senior receiver Jay Mortensen found junior receiver Jacob Leavitt for a 25-yard gain down to the 6-yard line.
“That one, we’ve been keeping in our back pocket for a while,” Lewis said. “We were going to run it the first time we played these guys but we held on to it and it worked.”
Lewis wasn’t going to allow another series inside the 10-yard line go without Hubert getting an opportunity, so he called for a Wildcat package the team only implemented earlier this week in practice. Hubert scored on the first play from the formation.
Desert Pines had time for a potential game-winning drive, but when Grayson lofted a deep pass on the fifth play, Hubert leapt like a gazelle to knock the ball right into Mortensen’s hands for an interception.
“We’ll be putting a No. 11 jersey up somewhere eventually I think,” Lewis said of Hubert. “What a gutsy kid. Good heck. What a stud.”