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Las Vegas High wins defensive battle with Durango, league title — PHOTOS

With his team locked in a defensive battle Friday night, Las Vegas football coach Erick Capetillo figured a big play might make the difference.

His offense logged just 20 second-half yards, but it was the defense that provided the decisive score.

Kawika Lopez scooped up a fumble and returned it 76 yards late in the third quarter for a go-ahead touchdown, and the third-ranked Class 4A Wildcats rallied past Durango for a 10-7 home victory.

The win guaranteed Las Vegas (5-3, 3-0) the Mountain League championship and a postseason berth.

“It’s been 11 years since we’ve won the division,” Capetillo said. “I’m just so proud of these kids.”

Durango (4-4, 1-2) looked like the better team at times, but five turnovers and costly penalties squelched several long offensive drives.

Capetillo said his team’s composure made the difference.

“We stuck with what we believe in,” he said. “We play tough football and disciplined football.”

The Wildcats squandered a 12-play drive on their first possession, and the Trailblazers used good field position on their second drive to go ahead 7-0 on a 4-yard run by Shayson See with 7:01 left in the first half.

Las Vegas made the score 7-3 on a 21-yard Raul Martinez field goal just before halftime.

The Wildcats finished with only 128 total yards as both defenses dominated.

“That’s a tough defense we have,” Capetillo said. “They’re stingy, they swarm to the football, and they bend without breaking.”

With 2:08 remaining in the third quarter and Durango driving, Lopez scooped up a fumble and took the ball down the left sideline to give Las Vegas a 10-7 lead.

“All of a sudden the ball popped out,” Capetillo said. “We’re just lucky it found its way into Kawika’s hands, and he took it to the crib.”

Any hope Durango had of rallying was terminated by two fourth-quarter interceptions.

Elijah Espinoza completed 11 of 18 passes for 108 yards to lead the Wildcats, and teammate Torrell Harley rushed nine times for 37 yards.

Maverik Cormier completed 16 of 29 passes for 180 yards to lead the Trailblazers, but four interceptions proved costly. Teammate Micah Reyes finished with 82 yards on six receptions.

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