VIRGINIA CITY – In past seasons, the Wells football team has struggled mightily against the likes of Virginia City and other squads from the West.
On Saturday, David nearly took down Goliath – the Leopards falling in a seesaw battle against the 1A North giant – Wells’ comeback attempt from 24 points down falling four points shy, the Muckers hanging on for a 50-46 victory.
Wells struck first, finding the board early.
Senior quarterback Zane Rodriguez started the back-and-forth action with a seven-yard touchdown run with 10:30 remaining in the first quarter.
The 6-0 lead was short-lived; 16 seconds short.
Virginia City senior running back Wyatt Pieretti gashed the Leopards for a 62-yard gallop, knotting the game 6-6 at the 10:14 mark.
Despite the close outcome, the Muckers would never trail again.
With 7:44 remaining in the opening frame, senior running back Joey Avendano rushed 34 yards for the tiebreaking touchdown, Virginia City grabbing a 12-6 advantage.
The Leopards put the ball on the carpet at midfield, senior Tabor Fletcher scooping and scoring from 50 yards for the Muckers, also notching the two-point conversion and opening a 20-6 lead with 7:04 on the clock.
Wells immediately placed itself back in the game.
A 79-yard pass from Rodriguez to senior Enrique Aguilar pulled the Leopards to within eight at 20-12 with 5:49 remaining in the first quarter.
Neither team could stop the other in the high-scoring frame; the action not finished yet.
With 4:06 on the clock, Avendano carved through what has been a porous Wells run defense – a 59-yard scamper giving the Muckers a 28-12 lead following the conversion by junior quarterback Aiden Gamble to Avendano – the teams combining for 40 points in the first quarter.
Avendano continued his torrid play to start the second period, his third rushing TD of the game from 12 yards opening a triple-up, 36-12 advantage for Virginia City at the 11:12 mark.
As has been the case all season, the Leopards clawed back through the air.
With 10:30 remaining in the half, Rodriguez hooked up with junior Jared Martinez for a 47-yard touchdown.
Rodriguez added the conversion, Wells trailing 36-20.
The Leopards were unable to make a key stop before the break.
With 4:33 on the clock, Gamble punched across the goal line on a one-yard keeper, the Muckers taking a 44-20 lead to the locker room on the conversion by Fletcher.
Wells hit the comeback trail in the third quarter.
Facing 4th-and-long from their own 37, the Leopards lined to punt – so everyone thought.
Martinez took the snap and threw to near midfield to Rodriguez, who bounced off a tackler and broke free from another attempt – racing past the last man to beat for a 73-yard touchdown.
With 9:16 on the clock, Wells pulled to within 44-26.
Virginia City fumbled on its ensuing drive in Wells’ territory, the Leopards pouncing on the rock at the 25-yard line.
Rodriguez made the most of a bad snap and turned the broken play into nearly a 25-yard run to around midfield.
He then broke free around the edge on 3rd-and-10 for another 25-yard run down the left sideline to the Muckers’ 25.
Sophomore Riley Stewart’s lone catch in the ballgame was a big one, making an acrobatic adjustment back to the football for a 17-yard gain to inside the 10.
The drive was capped as the Muckers allowed Aguilar to run free across the middle from the left side of the formation, the six-yard pitch and catch from Rodriguez inching Wells nearer.
The dup combined once more for the conversion, the lead trimmed to 10 at 44-34 with 6:49 remaining in the third.
Wells stiffened defensively at their own 44, forcing a turnover on downs on 4th-and-5 as the quarterback put the ball on the deck.
The Leopards moved the ball to the Virginia City 41, and sometimes playbooks and schemes go out the window.
Players make plays.
Rodriguez was forced from the pocket to the left sideline, heaving a pass clear across the field to right hash mark to Aguilar, who made two men miss and raced the final 33 yards himself – the TD slicing the deficit to only four at 44-40 with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter.
Just as Wells began to close off Virginia City’s inside runs, the Muckers countered – literally.
Avendano initially started left, came back to his right for the handoff and the Leopards’ defense sprung a leak.
He was loose, really loose – the 60-yard TD eventually serving as the dagger on Avendano’s fourth rushing touchdown of the contest.
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With 1:22 remaining in the third quarter, Virginia City took a 10-point lead of 50-40.
The Leopards could not take advantage of great field position – starting at the 46-yard line – Rodriguez sacked for a 10-yard loss on first down, a third-down pass falling to the turf with a drop.
Wells punted to the Muckers’ 16-yard line, and Virginia City effectively pounded its way down the field with a steady dose of runs and ate up much of the fourth-quarter clock – reaching the Wells 21.
However, a second and third effort on a carry while making spins resulted in a fumble – the Leopards recovering the loose ball at their own 12-yard line – Wells facing 88-yards of real estate for a potential go-ahead score.
Facing 4th-and-8, the Leopards dug back into their bag of tricks – a direct snap sent to Martinez in the backfield as Rodriguez leaked out to the right and crossed the middle of the field for a 21-yard completion to the 36.
As he was drilled while delivering the ball, Rodriguez connected across the middle with freshman Chris Franco – who did the final 60 yards himself.
Coming back, a Wells penalty nullified what could have been a game-changing play.
Wells picked up a first down to the Virginia City 48 with a throw from Rodriguez to Martinez, but disaster struck on second down.
On a delayed slant across the middle, a pass was completed to the Muckers’ 35 – Avendano making a huge strip.
As the ball came free, junior Austin Peevers covered up the garbage – Wells shooting itself in the foot by not carrying high and tight.
Lesson not learned by the Muckers.
On 2nd-and-5 from their own 41, a quarterback keeper drug out for extra yardage, the push ending with a strip and takeaway by Wells junior Charles Martinez, who came away from the pack and rolled 30 yards to the Virginia City 15 with three minutes remaining.
With 2:35 on the clock, Rodriguez kept the ball on an option-read and broke around the left edge for a two-yard touchdown.
The conversion was unsuccessful, leaving Wells in a four-point hole.
When the Leopards needed a stop, Wells could not make one.
The Muckers picked up a first down and went into victory formation, running the clock out and ticking the final seconds off Wells’ season.
The Leopards gave a valiant effort but fell short in a comeback bid against a perennial power, Virginia City advancing to the second round of the Division 1A state tournament with a 50-46 victory.
Wells finished the season with a 6-3 overall record and went 4-1 in league play of the Division 1A Northern-East.
The No. 2 Muckers will play the No. 3 team in the state in the semifinal round, taking on South No. 1 Spring Mountain at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Mineral County High School, in Hawthorne.
In the other state semifinal, East No. 1 Eureka will face the No. 1 team in the land – the Tonopah Muckers – at 1 p.m. Saturday at White Pine High School, in Ely.
Eureka whacked Excel Christian 48-8 in the quarterfinal round, while Tonopah escaped with a 42-36 victory over perennial state champion Pahranagat Valley.
— Virginia City took full advantage of Wells’ run defense, racking up 550 rushing yards on 65 carries
— Avendano led all players with a game-high 278 rushing yards on 19 attempts, scoring four TDs on the ground
— Rodriguez completed 13-of-19 passes for 256 yards with four touchdowns, rushing for 147 yards on 11 totes with two TDs – also catching two passes for 94 yards with a score – accounting for seven-total touchdowns
— Aguilar caught six balls for 147 yards and three scores
— Martinez snagged four passes for 65 yards with a touchdown, completing 2-for-2 throws for 94 yards and a TD
— Pieretti carried six times for Virginia City for 114 yards and a touchdown
— Gamble packed the football 13 times for 42 yards and a score
— Junior Sergio Soriano and Aguilar led the Leopards with 19 tackles apiece, each recovering a fumble
— Charles Martinez finished with 18 stops (10 solo) for Wells, two going for losses – Rodriguez also finishing with double-digit stuffs with 12
— Jared Martinez, Charles Martinez and Franco also recovered one fumble apiece for the Leopards
— Freshman Trent Dohoney, Fletcher and Peevers pounced on a fumble each – Fletcher’s going the distance for a touchdown and Peevers’ recovery on the forced fumble by Avendano coming at a crucial time
— Fletcher led the Muckers with 16 tackles
— Each team scored seven touchdowns, the difference in the contest stemming from the fact Virginia City successfully completed 4-of-7 two-point conversions while Wells converted only 2-of-7 attempts on two-pointers