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Moapa Valley wins defensive battle to reclaim hammer

There’s no way for this year’s seniors to recoup what they’ve lost because of COVID-19.

But for Moapa Valley’s football seniors, their last high school memory on the field will be bringing the hammer home.

Peyton Neilson threw two touchdown passes and the Pirates forced five turnovers in an 18-14 win over rival Virgin Valley in the Hammer Game on Friday at the Mesquite Regional Sports and Event Complex.

“It obviously doesn’t make up for missing a season, but this is as close as we can get to winning a state championship this year,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “We’ll take it. Those guys on the other side wanted to win the hammer as badly as we did, and it’s always a tough game between us two.”

In a game that dominated by defense for the first three-plus quarters, Moapa Valley took control with two big offensive plays.

The first was a 56-yard run from Gunner Redd around left end on a jet sweep that gave the Pirates the lead, and they struck again on their next march with a 40-yard pass from Neilson to Chris Hoy, who found his way behind the Virgin Valley defense.

“We stuck with it. You’ve got to respect Virgin Valley the way they came out the second half,” Lewis said. “I thought they had more momentum, and it was a gut check. We just needed a couple plays to get it back in our defense’s hands.”

Virgin Valley led 8-6 before those two plays, with its touchdown coming late in the third quarter when Ethan Workman fell on a Moapa Valley fumble.

The Bulldogs got back within one score when Jimmy Kelly pulled in a 46-yard touchdown pass from Will Barnum with 2:59 to go. Virgin Valley got the ball back with one more chance, but Kelly was stopped short on a fourth-down catch after three straight incompletions.

“Our defense did a great job. They had their chances, and we had a couple calls go our way. But I thought our defense just played solid and covered well,” Lewis said.

The only score of the first half came on Moapa Valley’s first possession of the second quarter.

The Pirates got the ball at the Virgin Valley 44 after a botched fake punt and went the distance in five plays. Justin Proffitt caught a jump ball in a one-on-one matchup for a 7-yard touchdown pass from Neilson.

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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