It was a tale of two halves Friday night for the Pahrump Valley High School football team, but their dominance in the second half made it easy to forget the crazy back-and-forth nature of the first.
Sophomore quarterback Dylan Wright rushed for four touchdowns and classmate Andrew Avena stopped two serious threats with interceptions as the Trojans pulled away for a 48-25 victory over Democracy Prep at Rancho High School in the Class 3A Sunset League opener for both teams.
“We had to win that game,” Wright said. “It was a really big win, first league game. It was a must-win situation.”
The tone for the second half actually was set on the last two series of the first. Despite 25 yards in penalties, and helped by a critical personal foul on the Blue Knights, the Trojans put together a 15-play, 65-yard drive featuring three consecutive Nico Velazquez runs for 33 yards and three consecutive Wright keepers, the last of which was a 2-yard touchdown. Velazquez ran in the conversion for a 32-25 Pahrump Valley lead.
The Blue Knights tried to answer, moving from their 20 to the Trojans’ 26, almost entirely through the air, but Avena put a stop to that with an interception at the 15 with 23 seconds left in the half.
The second half was an absolute clinic in Pahrump Valley football using coach Joe Clayton’s textbook. The Trojans (2-3) had drives of 12 and 14 plays sandwiched around a five-play, 47-yard scoring push after the Blue Knights (1-5) were stopped cold on a fourth-and-1 play near midfield.
But it was the other two drives that made the second half a display of classic Trojan football. After Casey Flennory took the second-half kickoff 26 yards to the Trojans’ 46, it was a steady diet of Velazquez, Avena and Wright pounding away behind a dominating offensive line, capped by Wright scoring on and third-and-inches with 6:01 to go in the third. After Avena’s two-point conversion run, Pahrump Valley had a 40-25 lead.
“The O-line played very well, which allowed Dylan Wright to have the game he had,” Clayton said. “We found a weakness on their right side so we took advantage of it. Andrew was the beneficiary of our left side crushing their right side.”
It was the first time either team held more than a one-score lead, and it put pressure on a Democracy Prep offense which was without starting quarterback Micah Gayman in the second half. Gayman had riddled the Trojans’ defense for 236 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an injury, and without him the Blue Knights turned to sophomore Amar Smith, who is more of a running threat. The result was only four pass attempts after intermission.
Conversely, the Trojans attempted four passes in the first half, completing one and seeing one intercepted. After halftime, they did not attempt a single pass.
The scoring drive after the turnover on downs — Velazquez punched it in from 4 yards out — pushed the lead to 48-25 in the last minute of the third quarter. But Democracy Prep didn’t fold, driving downfield on runs of 15 and 18 yards by Vanell Meeks. But on third-and-10 from the Trojans’ 18, Avena’s second interception gave the ball back to a Trojan offense that had found its groove.
“I’ve got to give credit to the guys on the line for putting pressure on the quarterback,” Avena said. “The ball was up there, and I just went up and got it.”
Avena acknowledged it wasn’t quite as easy as he made it sound, but the bottom line is the Trojans had the ball on their own seven with 9:01 on the clock and a 23-point lead.
The Blue Knights never got it back.
The Trojans ran 14 times, gaining more than 7 yards just once — a 31-yard burst by Velazquez, who seemed to have fresh legs in the fourth quarter — and marched inside the Blue Knights’ 10 before taking a knee at the finish.
“We had the ball most of the time,” Wright said of the second half. “We were just working well together, gaining yards, running down the clock. Just a team effort.”
It was a satisfying end to game that could not have started any worse, as Ramon Green took the opening kickoff 96 yards to give Democracy Prep a 6-0 lead 12 seconds into the contest. The Trojans answered on Wright’s first score, and each team scored on every possession of the half that didn’t end on a turnover. The only difference to that point was conversions, as the Blue Knights managed one PAT kick while the Trojans cashed in for two after all four of their touchdowns to take a 32-25 lead into the half.
Velazquez returned a kickoff for a touchdown and led the Trojans with 119 yards rushing, while Avena added 85 in addition to his two interceptions. Wright completed just one of four passes, but it was a 39-yarder to Joey Koenig on a drive that gave Pahrump Valley a 16-13 lead. They did not attempt one pass in the second half, but Wright rushed 11 times, gaining only 33 yards but four carries went for first downs in addition to the four touchdowns.
“In the second half they added another nose guard to stop us up the middle, but our line just pushed everyone back,” Wright said.
It was quite an effort after that disappointing performance in Boulder City two weeks earlier.
“The win was extremely important for our team’s morale,” Clayton said. “The boys were down because they got a butt chewing; however, after watching BC beat Virgin Valley, we have barely lost to some good football teams.”
And there was another positive to take from the game.
“We had some young guys stepping up, filling in for some of our older guys,” Clayton said. “Fabian Soriano was a first-time varsity starter at middle linebacker and did really well for us.”
Next up is Cheyenne, likely the best team remaining on the Trojans’ schedule. The Desert Shields are coming off a 57-13 rout of Valley. Game time is 7 p.m. Friday in Pahrump.
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at email@example.com On Twitter:@pvtimes