Friday, Oct. 28, 2016 | 12:52 a.m.
He leaped into the air to bump bodies with players. He hugged coaches and family members. He led a cheer in the post-game huddle.
Nihipali’s display of emotion showcased his appreciation for the way his team played. “The most rewarding thing about this: They never quit,” he said.
The Cowboys (5-5) snapped a two-game losing streak with the victory and, more importantly, advanced to the second round of the playoffs, where they will face Virgin Valley in Mesquite on Friday.
“It’s going to be a dogfight out there,” said senior defensive lineman Jesus Fernandez, who made a pair of big plays in the waning moments to secure the victory. “We’re looking forward to the rematch. Let’s get ready for Round 2.”
Chaparral wide receiver Kentrell Petite led the way, catching seven passes for 142 yards with two touchdowns. He also threw for a touchdown pass, pairing up with Devin Gaddy for a 29-yard score in the third quarter.
Petite’s biggest contribution came in the fourth quarter with less than five minutes remaining. After the Desert Shields (5-5) took a 26-23 lead with a Deriontae Green 46-yard punt return touchdown, Petite made a pair of catches including the go-ahead 11-yard score with 2:02 remaining.
“I told coach that I just needed a chance to make a play, so I could give our team the edge,” Petite said.
Then Fernandez took his place on center stage.
Fernandez swatted the ball back into the quarterback’s hands for a 19-yard loss on one play, before logging his third sack of the game on fourth down to send his team into the second round.
“It was adrenaline,” Fernandez said of the final play that saw him get around his blocker to get to the quarterback.
Green led the way for the Desert Shields, rushing for 103 yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns to go with his punt return score, which kept the his team within striking distance.
Once Cheyenne took the lead with 4:42 remaining, the Cowboys were visibly frustrated. Memories of earlier losses returned, primarily the losses against Pahrump Valley, Las Vegas and Virgin Valley.
“If you let your guard down, and we’ve been there many times, you’re going to fall short,” Nihipali said.
Unlike those previous outings, however, the Cowboys pulled it together, rallying behind senior leaders such as Petite, Fernandez, and 13 others to play football for another week.
“I know what my seniors can do. I have to corral them in and make them focus. It’s just our discipline,” Nihipali said. “I love these kids. I get on them. I yell at them. I say bad things to them. The thing about it: they step up.”