Blogs / Features
Don KetchumStaff Writer, AIA365.com email@example.com
Blue Ridge football team picks up where it left offAug 18, 2012
By Don Ketchum
(photo by Todd Shurtleff/MaxPreps.com)
It was just what the rest of Arizona’s Division IV football teams did not want to see – defending champion Lakeside Blue Ridge getting a head start on the 2012 season and coming away with a 23-14 victory over Moapa Valley, Nev., in Saturday’s (Aug. 18) first game of the Sollenberger Classic at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
And more bad news for Division IV – the clock barely had ticked to 00:00 when Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro said he wasn’t really satisfied by the turn of events, meaning that he will have his players put their shoulders to the wheel and push along even more in the coming weeks.
“Too many mistakes by good players. We need to tighten everything up,’’said Moro, whose team finished 14-0 in capturing the school’s 14th state title, 12th under his guidance.
Blue Ridge appeared to have a good balance with a versatile offense and hard-hitting defense.
The Yellowjackets appear to have found a marquee all-around player in senior Ben Watson.
He is in much the same mold as – dare we say? – former wide receiver-defensive back Josh Weeks of White Mountains rival Show Low, which fell to Blue Ridge in last season’s title game. Weeks has earned a scholarship from BYU – after he serves a two-year Mormon mission.
The 6-foot-1, 172-pound Watson is athletic.
He showed that with a big play on both sides of the ball.
With the first quarter coming to a close, Watson hauled in a pass from quarterback Skyler Hill, spun away from a couple of defenders and tip-toed down the left sideline for the game’s first score. The play covered 70 yards.
After Moapa Valley took an 8-7 lead on a 1-yard run by Conner Mortensen and a two-point conversion pass from Jake Repp to Chad Jones, Watson put Blue Ridge back on top to stay when he returned an intereception 34 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-8 with seven minutes left in the first half. The ball had been tipped at the line of scrimmage by a Blue Ridge teammate. He later had a second interception.
Asked afterward if he made a name for himself, Watson said, “I just went out and did my best. We had a pretty good game. It was fun. Playing in this game in this stadium was a great opportunity for us.’’
Of the TD catch, he said, “They (coaches) just put me in there right before that. We threw the ball and they (defense) kind of missed me.’’
And of the interception for the TD, he said, “Our line did a good job tipping the ball and I was able to get it.’’
Watson had 171 all-purpose yards – a 2-yard run, two receptions for 79 yards, 12 yards in kickoff returns, 23 in punt returns and 55 in interceptions.
Blue Ridge’s defense limited Moapa Valley to 191 yards total offense.
Star middle linebacker Chans Cox was slowed by a sore ankle, but senior linebacker Easton Wengert more than made up for it.
He came up with a sack on the final play of the first half as Moapa Valley was attempting to regain the lead. He saved his biggest play in the game’s closing moments when he stopped Mortensen (109 yards) at the 1 on a fourth-and-goal situation with 1:35 left.
“I just happened to be the guy, in the right place at the right time,’’ said the 6-foot, 190-pound Wengert.
He was in the right place at the right time most of the night – as in all over the field.
“We still have a lot of work to do – myself included,’’ Wengert said.
He said he and his teammates have a chip on their shoulders, “because after what we did last year, everyone wants to beat us.’’
Moapa Valley, runner-up in the last two championship games in Nevada’s 3A classification, made too many mistakes, according to coach Brent Lewis.
“We knew we would make some, being the first game. We just made too many,’’ he said. “We shot ourselves in the foot, time after time. It took away any momentum we had.’’
Lewis praised the play of Mortensen as well as his defense.
Moapa Valley's second TD came on the final play of the game, on a 40-yard punt return by Sean McConnell.