Updated November 18, 2021 - 11:08 pm
Moapa Valley didn’t save its best game for the final one of the season.
The Pirates in some ways might have played their worst game. They turned the ball over three times and muffed a punt, and they scored their fewest points in a game all season.
But none of that mattered, as Moapa Valley scored 27 consecutive points to rally past rival Virgin Valley 27-14, finish an undefeated season and claim the Class 3A state football championship Thursday night at Allegiant Stadium.
“At halftime, we told our guys we had played our worst half of football the entire year, and I thought they played their best,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “You have to hand it to Virgin for the way they came out and played. We certainly didn’t do it the easy way.”
It’s the 17th state championship for Moapa Valley and the fourth for Lewis, a 1986 graduate, as its coach.
Peyton Neilson threw for 210 yards and a touchdown and ran for two scores, but he had to shake off two interceptions and a strip sack. Landon Wrzesinski was the Pirates’ workhorse with 191 yards rushing on 25 carries.
Neilson’s first touchdown run on a 1-yard quarterback sneak got the Pirates on the board with 42 seconds left before halftime and sent the Pirates (12-0) into the locker room with momentum after their mistake-filled first half.
But that didn’t last long, as Neilson was intercepted on the first drive of the second half. He rebounded with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Gordon to tie the game with 5:26 left in the third quarter after the Pirates defense forced a three-and-out.
The Pirates muffed a punt after another three-and-out, and Virgin Valley (10-3) drove to the Moapa Valley 7 but missed on third- and fourth-down passes.
Moapa Valley turned around and went 93 yards in nine plays, capped by Neilson’s second rushing TD, a 5-yarder on a zone read that gave the Pirates the lead with 6:56 to play at 20-14 after a missed extra point.
Virgin Valley had the ball twice down by one score, but Benson Leavitt had the ball stripped from him at the Moapa Valley 14. On the next drive, Jayme Carvajal intercepted a Gavin Brown pass and raced 26 yards for the clinching touchdown.
“I knew he was running that quick out, so I read the quarterback, read the wide receiver and picked it for the pick-six,” Carvajal said. “I’m definitely going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
Brown was 19-for-34 for 293 yards and two touchdowns and the interception.
Virgin Valley had a near-perfect start, when Jimmy Kelly took a short pass from Brown down the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
The Bulldogs defense took control after that, forcing turnovers on the first two Moapa Valley possessions and stopping the Pirates on downs on their third.
After the turnover on downs, the Bulldogs drove into Moapa Valley territory before Brown fired a jump ball that Perkins took away from his defender for a 38-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead with 4:55 left before halftime.
Leavitt finished with 11 catches for 115 yards, and Perkins added an interception to his touchdown catch.