ELKO — The win was not always pretty — at times downright ugly — but it was a win.
On Friday night, the Elko football team saw a 20-0 lead evaporate — the offense going nowhere and the defense unable to make stops late — the Indians surviving a huge rally by North Valleys with a late one of their own.
With 59 seconds remaining, the left-footed boot by senior Jake Zeller lifted the Indians to a two-point victory of 23-21.
With the kick, Elko remains unbeaten at 3-0 and 2-0 in the Division 3A North.
Each team was forced to punt on their opening drive.
Elko moved the ball successfully on its next drive, the possession ending with not ideal results.
The chains were moved on consecutive carries by senior Cameron Marvel and junior Lincoln Ratliff.
After a lengthy run off the left side, senior Rolando Acosta carried to the North Valleys 39 and was hit out of bounds — moving the ball to the 24.
Ratliff running an option carry off the right side all the way to the 7.
The Indians went backward to the 14 and carried short on consecutive attempts, Elko lining up for a field goal.
The 29-yard attempt sailed wide to the right.
After a miscue, the Indians took advantage of an error by the Panthers.
Senior safety Kaden Garcia picked off a pass and returned the pick all the way to inside the 2.
Junior quarterback Jake Zeller plunged up the gut for a touchdown, adding the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 5:09 remaining in the first quarter.
Elko jumped offside on the kick and committed a hit to the head for another penalty on the second kick.
Junior running back Grasen Ternora rushed for 24 yards to the Elko 28.
The defense stiffened as Ratliff and Zeller converged on a bubble screen, junior Brigg Johnson tipping a pass on the next play.
After a seven-yard carry from a penalty, the Panthers stepped out of bounds short of the line to gain on 4th-and-17.
Elko took over and fell behind the sticks.
On 3rd and 13, Zeller rolled out for a play-action pass to Ratliff for a big gain to the North Valleys 44.
Junior Kaiden Cervantes packed the rock for a first down to the 30, carrying again to the 27.
Acosta and Zeller combined for seven yards on two totes, Ratliff carrying for four yards.
Around the left side, Acosta delivered a truck-stick blow all the way to the Panthers’ 3.
Cervantes capped the drive with a tough run up the middle, but the snap was dropped on the extra point.
With 10:04 remaining in the half, the Indians opened a 13-0 lead.
Sophomore Nicholas Mercado returned to the 36 and gashed the middle to the Elko 36.
The Panthers were dropped for short carries in succession.
A false start forced a punt to the Elko 9.
Elko’s drive was stuffed, ended by a sack from senior Fakatouola Finua and senior Kevin Sandoval.
The Indians punted to the North Valleys 38, the Panthers marching backward with a fumble and missing a sure-fire pass touchdown throw down the middle.
Elko got the ball back and punted — the Panthers roughing the kicker — the Indians taking another crack at points before the half.
A running back pass was overthrown.
The Indians led 13-0 at the break.
In the second half, North Valleys’ opening drive was shut down by a big sack from junior Dillan Burden.
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Elko extended its lead with a 95-yard drive.
Acosta moved the chains with a rush to the 16, Ratliff going off the right side to the 29.
Marvel reset the sticks with a carry to the 45, Acosta going across midfield to the other 45.
Ratliff continued the first-down streak to the 35, and Marvel set up the Indians at the 1 with a cutback from the middle to the right side from a sweep.
Cervantes plunged to paydirt for the second time and Zeller’s PAT pushed the lead to 20-0.
Hold the phones.
Here come the Panthers.
At the start of the fourth quarter, senior Michael Prickett made a catch to the Elko 39.
Ternora carried to the 23, serving as the workhorse of the drive.
From the 2, North Valleys found the board with a push by senior Cole Berry.
The kick was blocked, but Elko had too many players on the field — sophomore Jorge Torres’ second PAT splitting the uprights with 8:18 remaining.
The Panthers keyed in on Elko’s plays on the next drive, the Indians going nowhere fast and punted.
North Valleys fought right back in the game with a 56-yard catch-and-run on a slant from sophomore Cameron Zeidler to senior receiver Kellen Franklin.
After Torres’ extra point, the Panthers trailed 20-14 with 6:38 on the clock.
Senior Nick Kinder returned the kickoff to the 38, but the Indians fumbled — Franklin pouncing on the ball for North Valleys.
Ratliff appeared to jump a swing pass and intercept the football, the officials ruling a catch for the Panthers with simultaneous possession.
Down the right side, Zeidler dropped a dime into the bucket — Franklin reeling in the TD catch for the tie.
Torres gave the Panthers the lead with his PAT, Elko trailing 21-20 with 4:04 remaining.
Elko did nothing with the ball on three plays, facing a 4th-and-long.
Zeller bought time and hurled a deep bomb down the right side, Johnson coming back to the ball and leaping for an insane grab over the back of his defender.
The strike moved the football 35 yards to the Panthers’ 29.
Acosta caught a short pass out of the backfield and ran to the 14, Marvel churning his stems for a tough run all the way to the 3.
The Indians tried to get cute with a toss counter and lost seven yards.
Ratliff regained the yardage with a hurdle off right-tackle and nearly scored — reaching the 1 — but Elko committed a costly false start and marched back to the 6.
The next carry was stopped at the 4.
Elko lined up for a field goal, Zeller making his second attempt of the night count — absolutely gutting his boot from 21 yards.
With 59 seconds remaining, Elko grabbed a 23-21 advantage.
The defense still had to hold on.
A pass was completed to the 37, but Elko dialed up its pressure — led by Burden, Acosta and senior Max Shurtz.
The Panthers faced a 4th-and-long with 29 ticks left, Zeidler escaping the pocket and throwing a would-be first down straight through the hands of his intended receiver on the Elko 45.
The Indians survived after a decent start, a major letdown and a furious North Valleys rally — Elko making one or two more plays down the stretch for a two-point win.
Elko (3-0 overall, 2-0 in league) will play its first road game of the season at 7 p.m. Friday against the Railroaders (1-3 overall, 0-2 in league), in Sparks.