In many ways, Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley are mirror images of each other.
Both are schools from rural communities less than 30 miles apart. The football teams are steeped in tradition and have combined to win 27 state championships. Moapa Valley is tied for fourth in the state’s history with 16 championships. Virgin Valley is tied for eighth with 11 titles.
When they meet, the game is usually won in the trenches. Both teams bring a hard-nosed style of play. So it makes sense that the rivals play in the Hammer Game.
This year’s renewal of the rivalry kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at Moapa Valley.
Rivalry games are important to both sides when nothing is on the line. What sets this one apart are the stakes beyond the hammer.
League championships are often decided in this game. That is the case this year, with the winner claiming the Class 3A Mountain League title. Virgin Valley beat Moapa Valley in 2006 for the state championship before Moapa Valley returned the favor against Virgin Valley for the state title the next season.
“For me, this game is about tradition,” said Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis, a 1986 Moapa Valley graduate. “My dad graduated from Moapa Valley. All my brothers, myself, most of the kids’ dads that I coach right now graduated from Moapa Valley. This game is deeply rooted in our system.”
Virgin Valley coach Matt Woods also grew up understanding the rivalry’s importance. Woods, a 1992 Virgin Valley graduate, said the game is all he hears about in the offseason.
Once the season begins, not much changes. Both communities keep an eye on the other, knowing they’ll eventually cross paths.
“I’ve experienced it my whole life,” Woods said. “We’ve played so many times, and it’s so close. It’s two rural communities that both love football, and both valleys have fielded very good football teams, so that makes it special.”
The hammer has gone back and forth in recent years. It currently resides at Moapa Valley, courtesy of the Pirates’ 18-14 win during the shortened spring season in a game played at a park in Mesquite.
The Bulldogs beat Moapa Valley twice in three weeks in 2019, in the regular-season finale and a second-round playoff game. Moapa Valley took the hammer in 2018, with Virgin Valley claiming it in 2016 and keeping it in 2017.
Moapa Valley has been the dominant Southern Nevada 3A team this fall and enters the game with a perfect 8-0 mark. Virgin Valley had a hiccup against SLAM Nevada in late September, losing 21-14, but comes in with a 7-1 mark.
Lewis and Woods both complimented the other teams’ athletes and said limiting the big play will be a key to winning Friday.
“Both communities have planned our seasons around winning the league championship in this game,” Lewis said. “We have an enormous amount of respect for their coaching staff. Their kids are a lot like our kids. They’re very well-coached, and they play their guts out just like we do.”
Top five games
All games at 6 p.m. Friday, unless noted
Virgin Valley at Moapa Valley — The annual Hammer Game will decide the Class 3A Mountain League championship. Moapa Valley has been the dominant Class 3A team all season, but Virgin Valley would love nothing more than to take away its rival’s unbeaten mark.
Desert Oasis at Silverado — The winner takes the Class 4A Desert League title. Silverado has outscored its league foes 239-18. Desert Oasis has won its four league games behind a prolific passing game.
Liberty at Desert Pines — Liberty has the inside track for the Class 5A Mountain League title, but it’s not out of reach for Desert Pines. Liberty is coming off a bye and hasn’t allowed more than seven points in any of its three league games.
Canyon Springs at Arbor View — Playoff implications abound for both teams in this one. Arbor View can finish anywhere from second to fourth in the Class 5A Desert League standings. Canyon Springs can still finish as high as third despite not having clinched a playoff berth.
Bishop Gorman at Foothill — Both teams are undefeated in Class 5A Desert League play, but the real intrigue is whether Foothill can end Gorman’s shutout streak at four. The Gaels have outscored their league opponents 214-0.
Faith Lutheran at Green Valley
Legacy at Palo Verde
Basic at Clark
Chaparral at Cheyenne
Las Vegas at Del Sol
Mojave at Bonanza
Spring Valley at Shadow Ridge
Sunrise Mountain at Cimarron-Memorial
Pahrump Valley at Valley
Pinecrest Cadence at Boulder City, 7 p.m.
SLAM Nevada at Eldorado
Laughlin at Lake Mead, 7 p.m.
Needles at The Meadows, 7 p.m.
White Pine at Democracy Prep, 7 p.m.
Beatty at Round Mountain
Indian Springs at Beaver Dam
Mountain View at GV Christian, 7 p.m.
Pahranagat Valley at Tonopah, 7 p.m.
Sandy Valley at Spring Mountain, 7 p.m.
Rancho at Western, 9 a.m.