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October 30, 2014

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Defensive touchdown clinches Northeast title for Las Vegas

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Justin M. Bowen

Las Vegas High running back Farrell Victor breaks away from the Desert Pines defensive Thursday night. Las Vegas pulled out a 7-6 victory.

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Las Vegas High quarterback Hasaan Henderson throws a pass during the game against Desert Pines Thursday night.  Las Vegas pulled out a 7-6 victory. Launch slideshow »

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Las Vegas High senior linebacker James Joseph picked the perfect time to score his first touchdown.

His 9-yard interception return for a score midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night against visiting Desert Pines rescued a struggling Las Vegas offense and gave the Wildcats a 7-6 victory to clinch the Northeast Division title.

Las Vegas (7-1, 5-0) only managed nine first downs and didn’t run a play inside the Desert Pines 25-yard line. But punter Andre Gaston continually pinned Desert Pines deep in its own territory and the bad field position led to Joseph’s heroics.

Backup quarterback Trey Robello, playing for injured starter Dalton Leilua, was pressured by two Las Vegas rushers and threw the ball up for grabs.

Joseph did the rest.

Not only was it Joseph’s first touchdown of the year, it was his first time reaching the end zone since his days of flag football as a child.

“The feeling was great, something I’ve always dreamed of,” Joseph said.

Las Vegas forced turnovers on Desert Pines' next two possessions, including an interception from Dee Hall, to secure the win.

“It was ugly,” Las Vegas coach Chris Faircloth said. “But it is a lot better to come out with a win in an adverse situation than a loss.”

Desert Pines (5-4, 3-2) took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter when Leilua hooked up with Eric Tuiloma for a 6-yard scoring strike. However, Gustavo Galvin’s extra point was blocked — whereas Las Vegas’ Michael Flores made his extra point for the game-winner.

The Desert Pines players, which considered this their Super Bowl, were understandably devastated. The two schools are located roughly 10 miles apart in East Las Vegas and have developed a rivalry the last few seasons.

Desert Pines coach Paul Bennett was quick to point out that one loss, no matter how bad it hurts, doesn’t end the season. The Jaguars will be the Northeast’s No. 3 seed in two weeks for the Sunrise Regional playoffs and have a winnable game against Basic.

“I am hurting, too,” Bennett said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of them for how hard they played. The kids played inspired tonight. They knew they could win.”

Tuiloma finished with nine catches for 124 yards and was a key cog on defense in showing why he is one of the valley’s elite players.

“He’s just a special kid,” Bennett said.

Las Vegas, which has won the last six Sunrise Regional titles, didn’t look like the perennial power it has become. If anything, the Wildcats’ have opened the door for a number of teams — Del Sol and Basic from the Southeast, and Canyon Springs and Desert Pines from the Northeast — to have high hopes for the playoffs.

“Desert Pines has gotten better,” Faircloth said. “We expected this from them. Their kids always get up to play us.”

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