Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 | 11:48 p.m.
As Shadow Ridge High football players gathered to celebrate a win some surely thought would never come, a few players fell to their knees.
Some were overcome with emotion after beating host Las Vegas High 28-21 in the final seconds for a signature victory. Others, though, were downright exhausted.
Shadow Ridge used seven players on both sides of the ball, including its best player — junior running back and linebacker Aubrey Nellems. Nellems’ third touchdown of the game, a 2-yard scamper around the edge of the Las Vegas defense with 25 seconds remaining, were the winning points.
Cue the celebration.
“I am so happy right now, so happy,” Nellems said. “We are going places. We are going places. We just have to keep grinding.”
Shadow Ridge started many underclassmen last season in finishing with just one-win. And it committed way too many turnovers. While the Mustangs entered tonight with a 2-0 record those victories came against lightweights Valley and Eldorado.
Beating Las Vegas was more than winning a football game. It was about proving they belonged.
Not only are the Wildcats a respected program with a winning tradition, they have an elite running back in Elijah Hicks and last week they beat Centennial, a power in Shadow Ridge’s Northwest League.
“It’s just being positive with the kids,” Shadow Ridge coach Travis Foster said. “We were 1-9, but we built off that. There were a lot of positives we could take from that. We could compete for a half or three quarters. We just couldn’t stay away from the multiple turnovers. We were able to stop that tonight.”
Hicks was as good as advertised in nearly rushing for 200 yards and two touchdowns, but Shadow Ridge’s rushing attack was better. Malik Lindsey, Elisha Young and Nellems combined to rush for almost 350 yards, including the opening drive of the game when Shadow Ridge’s ground attack drained nearly seven minutes off the clock before it resulted in a touchdown.
Foster, in his second season, learned his craft while on staff at Arbor View. He saw how Arbor View built its program into a local power through its offseason weight training program and by mastering the misdirection rushing attack.
So, in the offseason, Shadow Ridge got to work. First, they raised nearly $50,000 for an expanded weight-training space. They clearly made good use of the space — its misdirection rushing game, one that relies on having stronger players on the line, worked against Las Vegas.
“I have gotten random phone calls from people telling me our offense is terrible and we are not going to win a game in town,” Foster said. “To come out and beat a team like Vegas by running our system and sticking to what we do is really rewarding.”
Shadow Ridge won’t have much time to enjoy its win. Next week, it opens Northwest League play against Arbor View. That means those seven players who played both ways will have little time to recover.
“It is dedication to the program. It is commitment,” Nellems said. “For nine months, nine months, our guys bust their tails in the weight room to have a moment like this. The grind never stops. We just have to keep working hard and we can beat anybody.”