Throughout much of the season, Clark was the valley’s biggest surprise team.
The Chargers went on a five-game winning streak, their longest in a quarter century, after having won during four games over the past three seasons combined.
Clark cooled off with a pair of Southwest League losses to Durango and Silverado, but it had one more chance Thursday to continue its storybook season into the postseason.
It took all 48 minutes against Desert Oasis, but the Chargers got it done. My’Quel Johnson threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Latroy Howard with three seconds remaining to lift the Chargers to a 49-48 victory and their first playoff berth since 2013.
“It means everything. It validates the building of the program,” Clark third-year coach Ricky Pickens said. “A new coach comes in, and he gets a couple years to tip the program in a different direction. If you haven’t made any progress in Year 1 or 2, people start to raise their eyebrows. If you have’t done it in Year 3, people start to seek out change.”
Not bad for a team that has been practicing on the school’s softball field and has played on the road all season because its turf football field was deemed to be unplayable. The Chargers were even playing Thursday without Pickens, who had a prior engagement.
“All the credit goes to the coaches, and it speaks to their leadership to keep the team going in the right direction without me physically being there,” Pickens said. “And it speaks to the kids’ coachability to respond to all the adversity they’ve been through from not having a field and all of the internal stuff that comes with trying to change a culture.”
The Chargers have earned all three of their league wins in dramatic fashion by a combined total of 15 points. They’ve relied on their defense for most of the year, but the offense has come through time after time when they’ve been needed most.
The loss was severely damaging to Desert Oasis’ hopes. The Diamondbacks will need to beat Silverado, which clinched second place in the Southwest on Thursday, and get a monumental upset from Clark over Bishop Gorman to have any chance.
Durango’s regular season is over, so it can sit back and wait to learn its playoff fate. The Trailblazers need only a win from Gorman or Silverado to avoid a tiebreaker with Desert Oasis, which would get convoluted because the Durango-Desert Oasis game ended in a double forfeit.
Durango is fortunate to be in that situation after escaping with a 15-14 victory over winless Sierra Vista. Ryan Cabase ran in a quarterback sneak with 2:30 left for the game-winner.
What we learned
The Northwest League is a mess
With the way the first few weeks have played out, it’s unlikely much will be resolved until the final results are in.
Four teams — Arbor View, Centennial, Faith Lutheran and Palo Verde — all are 3-1 going into the last two weeks. Centennial handed Palo Verde its first league lossThursday, and the Panthers still have to face Faith Lutheran and Arbor View.
Arbor View can at least make sure the group of 3-1 teams all make the playoffs with a win over Shadow Ridge next Thursday. The Mustangs are 2-3 and have a bye in the final week, so a loss would eliminate them from contention.
Desert Pines has some issues
It’s been an easy road for Desert Pines this season, but that came to an end Thursday.
The Jaguars overcame turnovers on their first three drives and came away with a 21-14 win over a tough Legacy squad.
But the bigger problem for Desert Pines lies with a situation involving Darnell Washington. The senior tight end, who is the No. 8 recruit in the nation according to the ESPN 300, was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter. Video appears to show Washington throwing two punches at an assistant coach who was trying to restrain him before he slammed his helmet to the ground and walked off the field.
Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez was visibly upset talking about the incident after the game, and he and his coaching staff have a difficult decision on their hands as to how they handle it.
First glance ahead
The 3A playoffs get started next week, with Boulder City hosting Del Sol and Moapa Valley traveling to meet Pahrump Valley. Virgin Valley (Sunrise) and Cheyenne (Sunset) received opening-round byes for winning league championships.
There are plenty of games with playoff implications throughout the valley. In addition to those discussed earlier, Foothill, Coronado and Chaparral are in a three-way tie for third in the Southeast League, meaning one of them won’t make the postseason. Chaparral’s position is the most precarious. The Cowboys need to beat Foothill by 13 or more to have any hope.
The game of the week is in the Northeast, where unbeatens Desert Pines and Las Vegas will meet. Las Vegas has been one of the other top stories this season, cruising to an 8-0 record after having won three games all of last season. The winner of this game will be the No. 1 seed from the Northeast in the Mountain Region playoffs.
Contact Jason Orts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.