Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 | 11:57 p.m.
As Desert Pines High football players were celebrating a victory three years in the making, they passionately yelled one of the program’s rallying cries.
Half of the players chanted, “We’re all we got”; the others responded with, “We’re all we need.”
The slogan seemed fitting considering what they’ve endured to get to Friday night’s 28-7 victory against nemesis Moapa Valley in the state quarterfinals.
Two years ago in the state championship game, Desert Pines squandered a 22-point fourth-quarter lead against Moapa Valley in a heartbreaking overtime loss. Last year, they lost to the Pirates by one point in the playoffs in a game they didn’t expect to be in.
Desert Pines had beaten Moapa Valley in the regular season, but a few weeks later forfeited the win for using an ineligible player. That forced a postseason matchup between the classification’s top teams earlier than expected, and until tonight, Moapa Valley always found a way to beat Desert Pines.
Isaiah Morris rushed for four touchdowns for the Jaguars in the win, including a 52-yard scamper where he was nearly tackled behind the line of scrimmage but quickly changed direction and outraced the defense to the endzone. That came with 6:23 to play, extending the Desert Pines lead to 21-7.
But that wasn’t enough — never is against Moapa Valley. No lead seems too safe.
“We played as a team this year. We played as a family and got the ‘W,’” Morris said.
The setbacks to Moapa Valley have arguably prevented Desert Pines for being the two-time defending state champions. They’ve also had to overcome season-ending injuries to key players, including this year when three-year starting quarterback Marckell Grayson tore his ACL in the first game. Last season, it was defensive lineman Anthony Smith who tore his ACL six days before the season started.
With each setback, the players have stuck together. The bond, coaches and players say, is unlike any they’ve been around. A win against Moapa Valley doesn’t validate the program’s success. It does, however, help them clear a hurdle some surely thought they’d never pass.
“It was a barrier we just haven’t been able to cross,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. “These kids were so focused this week. We had great preparation. We’ve had some obstacles this year and they have hung together. They have grown as a team.”
Morris gave Desert Pines the lead for good with a 3-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. He added an 8-yard scoring run on the opening drive of the second half for a 14-0 lead.
Cue the Moapa Valley comeback.
The Pirates used a 13-yard touchdown run from Jacob Leavitt with 1:28 to play in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 14-7. They held the ball for more than seven minutes, controlling the line of scrimmage and feeding the ball to Leavitt for short runs.
“There is always concern when you see them getting their momentum,” Rodriguez said. “Their coaches are phenomenal. Their scheme is great for what they do. We have been there before. We have had a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost. We preached 'finish' all week. Finish the job.”
This time Desert Pines didn’t allow the comeback. Morris closed the game with two touchdowns to carry Desert Pines back to the state semifinal. It hosts either Truckee or South Tahoe next Saturday.