Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 | 5:56 p.m.
This sequence of plays helps detail the three-year journey of the Desert Pines High football program to win the state championship.
The Jaguars beat Spring Creek of the Elko area 39-6 today to capture the 3A classification title at Bishop Gorman, but the game was far from a blowout in the first half. Desert Pines, actually, was fortunate it wasn’t trailing.
Here’s how the game turned:
Spring Creek had the ball at the Desert Pines 1-yard line with four chances to get into the endzone and break a tie midway through the second quarter.
But Desert Pines stopped a rushing play on first down. Then again on second down. And once again on third down. Spring Creek called a timeout to coordinate a fourth-down play — another run. Tony Fields II, like he did the previous plays, led the charge to stop the Spring Creek plunge, giving Desert Pines a critical stop and the ball.
Eight plays later, Desert Pines took the lead for good on a masterful catch in the corner of the end zone by Tony Wallace on a fourth-down play. Quarterback Tyler Williamson heaved the ball toward the end zone and Wallace did the rest, securing the touchdown and giving Desert Pines a 12-6 halftime lead to cap a 99-yard scoring drive.
While the game was far from over — Desert Pines learned that lesson the hard way in the state championship game two seasons ago when it squandered a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter — Desert Pines clearly had the momentum.
“We have worked on goal-line plays every practice,” Fields said. “At that moment, we needed to get it done, it was as simple as that. ... We have gone through a lot of obstacles. All of those obstacles have helped us grow in life.”
Winning a state championship is never easy, something Desert Pines can attest to. But, just like the goal-line stand, the Jaguars’ players kept fighting. Two years ago, in a game also played at Bishop Gorman, they were left devastated after Moapa Valley erased a huge deficit and stole the championship.
Last season, they were forced to forfeit a pair of games for using an ineligible player and went from state favorites to losing in the state quarterfinals. Along the way, they’ve lost Division I recruit after Division I recruit to season-ending injuries.
So, when the final seconds ticked off the clock and coach Tico Rodriguez got the water-cooler bath three years in the making, the reality of winning a championship finally became clear.
Everything played out just how they thought it would. Finally.
Whether it was the defensive stand, Wallace’s catch, a 102-yard interception return for a touchdown by Eddie Heckard in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, or a dominant game on both sides of the ball by University of Arizona recruit Fields, this is how Desert Pines was supposed to dominate all along. It may have taken longer than expected, but the Jaguars are champions.
“It created an obsession with us because we had to deal with so many disappointing things,” Rodriguez said. “The kids stuck together. The family bond at our school is amazing."
Desert Pines has about 30 seniors on the roster, many of whom were part of the loss to Moapa Valley two seasons ago. Those players made their last game count.
Fields, who is arguably the best player in the classification, impacted the game on both sides of the ball with touchdown receptions of 46 and 18 yards, and nearly 150 receiving yards.
Running back Isaiah Morris capped a brilliant career with a nearly 200-yard rushing performance and one touchdown. In Desert Pines’ biggest games, whether it was two years ago against Moapa Valley or last season against Arbor View, Morris had used his speed to break free.
“I had to do what my team needed me to do,” Fields said. “I just love this team. They called on me for a few plays and I capitalized. I am usually not an offensive guy, but we needed someone to make the big play.”
Shortly after the game ended, a reporter asked Rodriguez how his team would stack up next season. That was a common question in past years when his team fell short of expectations, and he always had the same answer: The 2017 class is loaded and they were building to this season.
Now, the 2017 class has an elusive championship to its credit. As for next season, Rodriguez will figure it out later.
“I’m going to enjoy this one ... at least for a week,” he said, still wet from the water cooler bath. “It’s a special group I am losing. This is the way it should have been two years ago. It’s a group of kids who weren’t going to quit. They sacrificed and stayed together.”