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April 23, 2014

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hs football:

Andrew Moreland, Jay Mattox step up for Las Vegas High in tight opening game

Las Vegas rallies to beat Desert Oasis 17-13

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Las Vegas’s Jay Mattox from the Sun’s All-City team.

Prep Sports Now

Are Centennial, Canyon Springs in the elite?

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There are topics aplenty on this week's episode after an eventful slate of games. Centennial and Canyon Springs, most notably, presented arguments for being included with the best teams in town. Are Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer buying the Bulldogs and Pioneers? Listen in on the debate, a discussion on touchdown celebrations and a breakdown of this week's games.

For the last few years, the Las Vegas High football team has marched behind the cadence of two superstars.

That much has stayed the same this season, as evidenced by the Wildcats season-opening 17-13 victory over host Desert Oasis Friday night. Only the names and faces have changed.

Junior running back Andrew Moreland and senior kicker Jay Mattox have filled the void left by graduated backfield staples Hasaan Henderson and Farrell Victor. Moreland and Mattox are the one-two combination that will lead one of the most storied programs in town for the 2012 campaign.

“He’s a very dynamic player,” Las Vegas coach James Thurman said of the 5-foot-7, 154-pound Moreland. “He was a good player for us last year, obviously he was just overshadowed by Victor.”

Moreland made the most of his first night in a starring role. He rushed 13 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

In the second half, Moreland had four carries. He gained exactly 52 yards on two of them. He also scored touchdowns on two of the attempts — a 2-yard run to tie the score at seven and the second 52-yard scamper that ended up as the game-winner with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“I got it going in the second half,” Moreland said.

As important as Moreland’s offensive contributions were to break the Wildcats out of a 7-0 halftime hole, special teams were every bit as integral to the victory.

Although Mattox missed a 52-yard field goal late in the first half, he redeemed himself by easily booting through a 40-yarder in the third quarter. Mattox’s extra-points and kickoffs also glided so perfectly through the air, it usually looked like they would leave the stadium.

The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, continually sacrificed field position with lackluster kickoff and punt units. A slew of Wildcats blocked one of the Diamondbacks extra points. They did the same on a field goal attempt, from 22 yards out five minutes into the game after a 77-yard run from Kurtis Brooks put Desert Oasis in a prime position to score.

Those four points ended up as the difference in a tight contest. Las Vegas’ special teams, undoubtedly led by Mattox, co-starred with Moreland on this night.

“Our kids have bought in to playing three phases,” Thurman said. “We’ve always done that.”

After Moreland’s go-ahead score, Desert Oasis drove down inside Las Vegas’ 10-yard line behind Brooks, who finished with 138 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, and quarterback Herman Smith.

Smith went 16-for-29 for 164 yards and a touchdown. Marvin Duty, Mark Fredricks and Jordyn Compehos accounted for 95 percent of the receiving production.

But Desert Oasis’ offense stalled when it mattered most. The Wildcats defensive front — particularly Jason Cottle who had two sacks on the night — forced a turnover on downs with the Diamondbacks inside the 10 late that ultimately enabled them to win the game.

“We told them if we came together as a family, we’d be fine,” Thurman recalled of the halftime talk with his team.

Timely defense, Moreland’s speed and special-teams dominance helped the Wildcats overcome several miscues. Las Vegas turned the ball over three times — two interceptions and one fumble —and committed 10 penalties for 70 yards.

“It was just mistakes, first-game mistakes,” Thurman diagnosed. “We got yards, we just didn’t capitalize.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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