Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 | 1 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer recount their second loss in as many years as coaches in Halloween Hoops against Findlay Prep before transitioning into football. Among their numerous disagreements are a debate on the current value of the run and a discussion on the odds for the Sunrise region.
Canyon Springs football coach Hunkie Cooper has been around the game for decades and has never seen a play like this. The same is true for Las Vegas High’s James Thurman.
Canyon Springs, holding a seven-point lead late in the third quarter Friday against host Las Vegas, was forced to punt from inside its own territory. Two Las Vegas defenders easily made their way to the punter to block the kick.
After struggling most of the game to move the ball, this was the break Las Vegas needed. Finally, they’d have good field position.
But Canyon Springs’ Kyhren Howard scooped up the loose ball and raced 67 yards for a touchdown, surprising most because blocked kicks are rarely recovered by the punting team. And they are rarely advanced.
It turned out being the key play in Canyon Springs’ 21-14 victory, giving the Pioneers the No. 2 seed from the Northeast League and a home playoff when the Sunrise Regional starts next week.
Howard admits not knowing what was going on. He saw the loose ball and made a play.
By rule, a blocked punt behind the line of scrimmage is treated like a fumble and can be advanced. It shocked most, especially those on the Las Vegas sideline. Immediately after Howard scored, the general thought was the ball would be returned and Las Vegas would receive possession.
But it wasn’t. Howard’s quick thinking changed the game, and arguably season, for each team. His score put Canyon Springs ahead 14-0 with three minutes to play in the third quarter.
“I just saw the ball, picked it up and wanted to help my team win,” Howard said. “I didn’t know I could advance it, either.”
Canyon Springs, one week after giving up 40-plus points in a loss to Green Valley, was back to its dominating defensive ways. They had given up less than 10 points per game entering the Green Valley contest, showing Friday they still are a force to be reckoned with.
They forced three fumbles in the initial six minutes, recovering two of the balls and finishing with four turnovers. And they were constantly in the Las Vegas backfield, pressuring quarterback Trevor Swenson and giving running back Andrew Moreland little room to run.
Las Vegas entered averaging more than 40 points per game. They didn’t score Friday until 2:07 remained — Swenson with scoring strikes to Sam Blackburn, then a minute later to Kode Mwirigi.
“We control our own destiny. We beat us (last week),” Cooper said. “Green Valley is a great football team, but we had our chances. We were up 14-0. That was the first time in three years our defense (was that bad).”
The first Canyon Springs touchdown was set up by its defense. Linebacker Joe Jackson intercepted a Swenson pass and returned it deep into Las Vegas territory. A few plays later, quarterback Bradley Alexander II scored on a 14-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
What a difference a week makes. Last week, Green Valley didn’t punt. This week, Las Vegas barely moved the ball — both Las Vegas touchdowns came in the final two minutes when the game was already decided.
“We watched a lot of film during the week,” Jackson said. “It was knowing what to do and knowing where to go at the right time.”
For as good as the Canyon Springs defense was, Las Vegas was arguably better in limiting the Pioneers to less than 200 yards. That’s definitely a red flag for Cooper, especially with the playoffs starting next week — Canyon Springs hosts Coronado. Las Vegas falls to the No. 3 seed and travels to Basic.
Alexander had a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Marck Cassino, but the Canyon Springs offense seemed to be stuck in neutral all night. Running back Zaviontay Stevenson was held in check, gaining just 81 yards on 26 carries.
“With our defense, we have to score 10 points to win. That’s all,” Cooper said. “Our defense is amazing, but our offense did enough to just get the job done. We’ll fix that. We’ll be ready for the playoffs. It’s going to be hard-nosed football between the tackles.”
Last year, Canyon Springs lost three games by a combined seven points. Last week, they lost to Green Valley for the second straight year on a game-ending field goal, and also surrendered a touchdown to an offensive lineman on a fumble return.
Finally, the Pioneers caught a break Friday with the blocked punt return.
“We need a break, too,” Cooper said. “Thank God we finally got a break. Breaks are created. Kyhren has been playing for us (the Canyon Springs junior program) since he was 7. I’m so proud of him. That’s a game-changer.”