Martin Blake refused to allow this one to slip away from Canyon Springs.
The Pioneers remained unbeaten in Northeast League play on Thursday when Blake gathered in a Las Vegas punt on the second hop at his own 20-yard line, then raced 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left in a 34-26 home victory.
The big return was Blake’s second of the game, after he’d returned a kickoff to tie it at 14 with 11:20 to play in the second quarter. And it capped a night on which the sophomore running back also rushed for 140 yards on 15 carries, including a 5-yard TD run.
“That kid is special,” Canyon Springs coach Gus McNair said. “He’s kind of this team’s heart and soul. And he’s just a sophomore. There’s no age limit on greatness.”
The win improved Canyon Springs to 3-3 overall, 3-0 in league play. Las Vegas fell to 2-5, 0-2.
The special teams explosions began with the game’s opening kickoff.
A squib kick from Las Vegas was initially muffed near the left sideline by Canyon Springs’ Darian Clinkscale.
Clinkscale finally found the handle, but didn’t head for the goal line. Instead, he went laterally, faked a reverse and kept the ball. Then he headed up field, found a lane, broke outside to the left sideline, eluded the kicker and raced 82 yards for the game’s first touchdown 18 seconds into the contest.
The Wildcats responded with a methodical, 13-play drive that covered 76 yards. Quarterback Ja’Shawn Scroggins finished it off with a 1-yard sneak to tie the game at 7 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
It stayed that way until the first play of the second quarter when the Wildcats Sean Wiggins intercepted a Brian Reynolds pass at the Las Vegas 5-yard line and returned it 95 yards for a 14-7 lead with 11:37 to go in the first half.
The game was tied again on the ensuing kickoff, as Martin Blake took it 81 yards to tie the game again with 11:20 left in the half.
“That’s one-third of the game,” McNair said. “People forget about special teams. We spend a lot of time on special teams.”
Special teams got Las Vegas back in front as the second quarter buzzer expired.
Brian Batres made a 25-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 17-14 lead heading into the locker room. And special teams gave the Wildcats a chance in the fourth quarter after a nice defensive stand backed Canyon Springs up to a fourth-down situation at their own 3.
A high snap forced punter Alonso Casillas to step back, and he stepped on the end line in the end zone for a safety. That closed the gap to 26-19 for Las Vegas with 7:57 to play.
The Wildcats tied it up with 3:30 left when Scroggins found Miles Davis for a 15-yard touchdown pass. Scroggins completed 21 of 36 passes overall for 200 yards.
“We’ve got a few things to clean up on offense and defense,” McNair said. “But we played a great game. That’s football.”
After Las Vegas tied it at 26-26, each team had possessions on which they could not move the ball.
The Wildcats had their last chance with 1:15 to play, but were forced to punt near midfield. The punt was low, hit the grass and bounded forward. But Martin stayed with it, grabbed the ball as it reached the 20, saw an opening around the right side and bolted. He broke two early tackles, but was then in the clear.
“When the team is down, he tends to bring the life back,” McNair said. “He just does everything right. On the field, in the classroom. He’s choosing to be great. He’s going to play on Saturdays for someone someday.”