Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 | 12:36 a.m.
Ray Brewer and Case Keefer are back with their weekly discussion of the high school football scene, which is headlined this week by a top-five game pitting Basic against Arbor View. They also wonder out loud if Bishop Gorman, Liberty and Arbor View are fielding their best teams in program history this season.
Jacob Bowden grew up attending the "Bone Game" high school football rivalry between Las Vegas and Rancho, imagining what it would be like when he got a chance to play in the clash some consider the state’s most storied.
Less than four minutes into his first appearance Friday, the Las Vegas sophomore linebacker recorded arguably the most significant play in the Wildcats’ 20th straight victory in the series, a 49-0 win.
Cruz Littlefield blocked a punt after the Las Vegas defense forced a three-and-out on the first Rancho possession, and Bowden scooped up the ball and raced about 20 yards into the endzone for the game’s initial points.
Rancho is much improved this season and had momentum early. The bleachers on its side were packed with vocal fans, and Rancho’s defense held Las Vegas in check on its first possession to fuel the confidence.
One play changed everything. Bowden scored his first touchdown since youth football, or at least that’s when he last remembers scoring because it happens so infrequently, and Las Vegas quickly pieced together another lopsided victory in the rivalry.
“I wasn’t really expecting it, pretty cool,” Bowden said.
The rivalry, in its 59th season, brought a soldout crowd to Rancho, including a handful of alumni from both schools to fuel arguments that the game hasn’t lost its luster despite the Las Vegas dominance. Both teams played with high emotions, which got out of control with about two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
A late hit near the Rancho sideline ignited a brawl lasting about three minutes. Five players — four from Rancho; one from Las Vegas — were ejected, and because of suspension rules will also be disqualified from next week’s game. Coaches agreed to continue the game, but passed on the postgame handshakes.
“It is unfortunate. It is a good rivalry. It is healthy rivalry,” Las Vegas coach James Thurman said. “They are a better football team this year than they have been. I hate to see that tarnish what happened tonight, for us and them. It is part of football, part of a rivalry.
“You see it with Michigan-Ohio State, Florida-Florida State where guys push and shove each other (after plays). I’m not going to point fingers. We are going to live and learn.”
Zach Matlock, the Las Vegas sophomore quarterback also playing in his first Bone Game, knew from talking with teammates the rivalry would be intense. But when he walked past fans lining the fence to watch the game after being denied entry into the saturated stadium, it hit him: This game would be like no other he’s played in.
Matlock didn’t seemed bothered, completing 10 of 12 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for another score.
“You score a touchdown and you hear the whole crowd yelling,” he said. “It was crazy. I didn’t expect a crowd like this. You walk around, and everyone is there cheering for you. You can’t help put get hyped.”
Like Matlock and Bowden, a handful of the Wildcats’ top players are sophomores. Running backs Elijah Hicks and Diquan Brown each had a pair of touchdowns in the win, also putting their stamp on the rivalry. They’ll all be back next year, and the year after, likely continuing the lopsided results against Rancho.
“We’re lucky,” Thurman said of his talented underclassmen.