Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 | 11:49 p.m.
Members of the Desert Pines football team raced out to the line of scrimmage and started to break the huddle. Then, they realized a lineman was missing, forcing the Jags to burn a timeout.
The initial two quarters of the season opener Friday against visiting Bishop Manogue of Reno also featured a red zone fumble to thwart a scoring drive and nearly 100 penalty yards.
Yes, it was ugly. So at halftime, coach Tico Rodriguez had a stern message.
“I challenged them,” he said. “We have all of this talent and we are just out there sleep walking. I challenged their character. I challenged their manhood.”
The second half was much different. The Jags recorded a shutout over the final two quarters of a 34-11 victory, their offense was more crisp, the defense was lights-out, and those playmakers Rodriguez feels can compete for a state title, made plays.
Desert Pines, you can argue, is as talented as any team in the state with double-digit players holding major Division I scholarship offers. That includes the nation’s top tight end, Darnell Washington.
But, by no means can the Jags simply show up and win. That’s something they learned in the first half, as Manogue — last year’s state runner-up — connected on a long pass before halftime for an 11-7 lead.
“We stepped up in the second half,” Rodriguez said. “They played with urgency. They played with tempo. You could see us come alive.”
Junior Malik Brooks had three touchdown runs, including two in the second half when the Jags scored 27 unanswered points to close the game. The passing game showed equal signs of promise with sophomore RJay Tagataese making many tough throws, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to freshman Deandre Moore. Moore made a nifty catch in the back of the end zone.
“It builds my confidence because I know I can count on them,” Tagataese said of his receivers. “We just connect.”
Wide receivers Braden Thomas, Jett Solomon and Michael Jackson III also made plays in the passing game. And, of course, Washington was heavily featured.
Last year, the 6-foot-8, 265-pound five-star recruit had less than 200 receiving yards as Desert Pines struggled to pass. He had nearly 100 yards in the opener, including one play where he stiff-armed a much smaller defender in showing his strength.
“You have to get those cats the ball, and we did that,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also complimented his defense, which buckled down in the second half to limit Manogue, including a sack from senior Gabriel Lopez to establish a new state record of 34 for his career. Manogue only ran a handful of second-half plays on the Desert Pines side of the field.
“We know there is a lot to fix, but we are going to get it going,” Rodriguez said.