MESQUITE — Brent Lewis took off his cap, wiped his brow and let out a sigh of relief.
“I’m emotionally drained after that game,” the Moapa Valley football coach said. “There was a lot of momentum back and forth.”
The Pirates withstood two rallies by host Virgin Valley and had a response each time, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a wild 53-35 victory Friday night before an overflow crowd.
No. 10 Moapa Valley (8-0, 4-0 Division I-A Sunrise League) retained the “Victory Hammer” by beating its rival for the eighth straight time, including the postseason. More importantly, the win set up a showdown against unbeaten Desert Pines on Thursday night for the league title and No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“Our kids made big plays at key times,” Lewis said. “I’m not happy with some of the breakdowns we had. They exploited us a little bit, but the ability of our kids to answer when we needed to was the key.”
Jared Repp ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns, and Kaleb Bodily added 75 yards rushing and two scores for the Pirates.
Wide receiver Jeremy Waite caught two touchdowns and sealed the win with 5:08 remaining when he stripped Virgin Valley’s DeVonte Milligan on a kickoff return and fell on the ball in the end zone to give Moapa Valley a 53-28 lead.
“We go out and give everything we have every play,” said Pirates quarterback Zach Hymas, who threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns. “That’s our team. We don’t give up. We’re fighters.”
Dee Bowler had two receiving touchdowns for Virgin Valley (6-2, 2-2). He broke free along the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown on fourth-and-19 late in the third quarter to make it 33-21, and added a 6-yard scoring reception that cut Moapa Valley’s lead to 39-28 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But Lance Hilton returned the onside kick 35 yards to the Virgin Valley 13-yard line, and three plays later, Hymas connected with Tyler Zobrist on an 11-yard TD to put Moapa Valley up 46-28 with 5:22 left.
“They were forcing us into some bad mistakes,” said Virgin Valley coach Chris Sawyers, whose team fumbled three times and also had a punt blocked in the first quarter. “We didn’t start playing offense till we were down (20 points). We’ve got to get more stops and play better on offense early.”
Moapa Valley bolted to a 20-0 lead in the first half before the Bulldogs rallied. Quarterback Garrett Leavitt found Milligan for a 43-yard touchdown, and Dillon Graves’s interception set up Leavitt’s 5-yard touchdown run that made it 20-14 with 2:27 to go in the second quarter.
But Hilton made the play of the game on fourth-and-2, catching a lateral from Hymas before finding Waite along the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown that put the Pirates on top 27-14 with 46 seconds left before halftime.
“We haven’t shown that all year,” Lewis said. “We save it for big games like this. It was a huge play, just one of many.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at (702) 387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.