Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015 | 12:55 a.m.
Green Valley High should have considered issuing a medical warning Friday night that a potential side effect of watching its football team play is motion sickness.
The Gators employed a feverish pace and dizzying efficiency on offense to spin the Las Vegas High Wildcats right out of the Sunrise region playoffs with a 44-31 first-round victory.
“Our intensity was way high,” junior quarterback A.J. Amelburu said. “We wanted to keep them off-balance, and that’s what we did.”
The basic prescription of Green Valley’s spread offense has always been using speed to disorient opposing defenses. But the Gators took it to an extreme to win their first postseason game since 2013.
Amelburu would often rush his team to get lined up before officials had even cleared the tackling pile or set the ball. It paid off as Amelburu accounted for 174 yards and three touchdowns while directing an offense that produced nearly 6.5 yards per play.
“Our guys are growing up and getting better,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said. “It’s exciting to see.”
Las Vegas was able to keep up with its own version of football on fast-forward in the first half. The Wildcats took leads by scoring on the first play of their first and third drives in the first quarter.
Sophomore running back DiQuan Brown caught a screen pass from sophomore quarterback Zach Matlock, who had a game-high 288 yards of offense, on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage and went 80 yards for a touchdown.
After Green Valley responded with senior running back Austin Warhop — 18 carries for 133 yards on the night — punching in his only touchdown, Las Vegas answered again in 20 seconds.
Sophomore running back Elijah Hicks — 13 carries for 140 yards — evaded one tackler and out-ran the rest for a 58-yard touchdown to make the score 14-10.
“We played pretty sloppy at first,” Castro said. “We gave them new life at times.”
But then the Gators just as swiftly took it away. Amelburu scored on a 3rd-and-13 play early in the second quarter on a 23-yard quarterback draw, and Green Valley never trailed for the rest of the night.
Las Vegas junior kicker Ricardo Ortega briefly tied the score at 17 to precede a 24-0 scoring run for Green Valley that lasted late into the fourth quarter. The Gators started pulling away when sophomore wide receiver Marquez Powell caught a 20-yard Amelburu pass that looked to be sailing out of bounds, and somehow tiptoed along the end-zone sideline to score before halftime.
“I was unsure if he caught it,” Amelburu said. “It was a great catch by him. I was proud of him.”
Powell led the Gators with five catches for 61 yards.
Las Vegas posted a near 100-yard advantage in total offense, but much of it came with the outcome already decided. The Wildcats were also more careless than the Gators, as they were on the wrong end of all three turnovers in the game.
The most damaging giveaway came a minute after the start of the second-half when Green Valley junior defensive back Nahzi Salih forced and recovered a fumble at the Las Vegas 20-yard line. Amelburu turned the takeaway into points with a 1-yard rushing touchdown about a minute and a half later.
“We talked to the guys at halftime about getting a stop or a turnover and getting the ball back to the offense,” Castro said. “We did that, and gave them a short field with the opportunity to score some points.
Even on the rare occasions when Green Valley slowed before finding the end zone, it had a capable back-up plan. Senior kicker Spencer Cofer converted on all three of his field goal attempts, ranging from 27 to 44 yards.
The football flew off Cofer’s foot on every attempt and through the air with a speed uncommon for high-school kicks, meaning they fit right in at Green Valley.
“We’re always stressing playing fast,” Amelburu said.