Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018 | 12:47 a.m.
No one could catch Darnell Washington. No one could bring him down, either.
The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Desert Pines junior showed why he’s arguably the most coveted college football recruit in Las Vegas in the Jaguars’ opener Friday night at Durango. Washington, a tight end/defensive end who's earned several scholarship offers including from the likes of Alabama and Oklahoma, made the two biggest plays of the game in the Jaguars’ 12-6 win over the Trailblazers.
“He’s a special talent,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. “This year, we’re expecting a lot out of him. He wants the ball in crucial moments.”
In many ways, Desert Pines’ first game back in the 4A classification after winning back-to-back 3A state championships didn’t go according to plan. With a handful of players out due to unspecified reasons, the Jaguars struggled to move the ball and finished with less than 200 yards of total offense.
In other ways, Desert Pines’ return to the upper level went exactly as expected. The Jaguars’ handful of star players carried them through the first game, none of them shining as brightly as Washington.
He scored the game’s first touchdown when he halted a route and came back to catch a pass from senior quarterback Tyler Williamson midway through the second quarter. Washington leaned down, his knees nearly scraping the grass as he corralled the pass.
But he was able to secure the ball, switch it to his right hand while he used his left to keep himself upright and blow past a defender for a 39-yard touchdown reception.
“In practice, just for fun, whenever I catch a ball, I just bear crawl,” Washington said. “I guess it came in handy.”
The memorable score was Washington’s only catch, as the Jaguars otherwise struggled to get him the ball. He had to improvise for his other big moment.
Washington, also the Jaguars’ punter, was sent out to kick the ball back to the Trailblazers on 4th and 13 from Desert Pines’ own 22-yard line with 3:30 remaining in the game. But he saw Durango overload the left side of the line, leaving nothing but open field to the right.
Washington therefore took off, picking up 23 yards for a first down that greatly improved the chances for a victory.
Speed and size are often referenced when it comes to Washington, but Rodriguez said the play highlighted another overlooked attribute — smarts.
“I think if he punted, he probably would have gotten it blocked because they were right on top of him,” Rodriguez said. “He read that and made the right play.”
Washington had a punt blocked earlier in the game, but slung down the player who recovered the ball so hard that he was injured. Durango struggled to deal with the physicality of Washington and fellow highly touted teammate Elijah Wade, a senior linebacker, for most of the night.
The Jaguars held standout Trailblazers running back T.K. Fotu to 27 yards on 12 carries. Durango’s drives continuously stalled until five minutes remained in the fourth quarter, when senior quarterback Kaden Renshaw found senior receiver Jayden Nersigner for a 30-yard touchdown. Nersinger led the Trailblazers with four catches for 51 yards, and was also a terror on the Jaguars defensively.
“It was very sloppy,” Rodriguez said. “We just offensively couldn’t get things going.”
Minnesota-committed running back Cameron Wiley was the most affected by Desert Pines’ absences, as Rodriguez had to thrust a couple players onto the offensive line who had never played the position before. Wiley fought for 85 yards on 20 carries on a night where he was often met in the backfield by defenders.
He scored Desert Pines’ second touchdown on a five-yard run shortly before halftime, but couldn’t get anything going consistently in the second half. That put the Jaguars in a position where they had to rely on Washington.
After the punt scramble, Durango didn’t get the ball back until 1:06 remained with Washington’s actual punt pinning the Trailblazers on their own 6-yard line. Washington pushed the Trailblazers back further when he stuffed Renshaw for a two-yard loss on a scramble and batted down a pass in the backfield on the first two plays of the series.
Senior defensive back Tye Moore sealed the win with an interception on the next play, but the Jaguars’ celebration was muted. They believe they can play much better despite the increase in competition.
“We’re going to get back to work Monday, work harder and clean ourselves up,” Washington said.