EAGAR — Rowdy Rivera thought maybe he could fake out Wickenburg’s defense, and that’s exactly what Round Valley’s senior receiver did on a game-winning touchdown catch Friday night.

Rivera actually called the play during a timeout that resulted in an 11-yard catch in the corner of the end zone with 52 seconds to play that carried the Elks past the Wranglers 20-16 in a 3A state first-round playoff game at the Round Valley Dome.

“I realized they were playing super close to me and I heard their coach from the sideline say ‘hey watch the slant.’ So I said if I fake the slant and then come back out I’ll be wide open. So I let my coach know that and we put it in play,” Rivera said of his seventh touchdown catch this season.

After making the fake move, Rivera said he had a couple steps ahead of the pass defender and was an easy, open target for Elks quarterback Ryker Marble.

“He was pressing me and then I got around him and ran towards the safety,” Rivera said. “The safety was playing right there, and then I ran outside away from the safety. I think any of our other receivers could have made the same play. Coach wanted to give me it because I told him about it, what my idea was. I actually had our lineman Noah Dana come up to me and say ‘I believe in you. I know you dropped a couple of passes before this, but I believe in you. We’re going to win this game.’ We threw the play and we executed.”

The drive started from Round Valley’s 37-yard line with 4:39 on the fourth-quarter clock and the Wranglers holding on to a 16-13 lead. In seven plays, the Elks reached the Wranglers’ 11. Most of those 52 yards were gained on running plays from Marble and running back Seth Wiltbank, who rushed for an even 100 yards on 21 carries.

Marble did complete a 10-yard throw during the drive, but since many of his passes for the game were incomplete or intercepted — he was 12 of 25 with two pickoffs — he thought the Wranglers defense was surprised by Rivera’s heroics.

“I dropped back to pass and I started feeling a little pressure coming so I had to roll out a little bit and Rowdy ran it a little deeper than I thought he was going to, but I’m glad he did because that’s what got us in the end zone,” the sophomore southpaw passer said. “I think it caught them off guard because our last few drives throwing the ball were unsuccessful. We started going with the run game and the run game started to work.”

Head coach and offensive coordinator Brad Baca said the winning pass play has been in the Elks’ system all year but was not actually in the playbook against Wickenburg so the design was entirely Rivera’s suggestion during the timeout.

“We came in to that timeout and Rowdy Rivera came and told me ‘I can run this route on this defense.’ I listened to him, he ran a perfect route and Ryker found him. He made a great play call, called his own number and everything worked out. I was proud of him,” Baca said. “I was proud of all of them. They showed some heart in the second half.”

The 12th-seeded Wranglers (5-6) from the West region, overcame a 7-0 deficit by scoring all of their 16 points in the second quarter, helped by Marble’s fumble late in the first quarter at the Elks’ 18-yard line. The turnover set up quarterback Logan James’ 1-yard score to knot the score at 7 at 11:25 of the second period.

The fifth-seeded Elks (10-1) were then forced to punt after netting 1 yard in three plays, and the Wranglers took a 10-7 lead on Eleazar Dominguez’s 24-yard field goal at 6:37. That score was enabled by an 80-yard pass completion by James that advanced his offense from its 14 to the Elks’ 6-yard line.

The teams then traded touchdowns — Marble’s 4-yard keeper and a 50-yard halfback option pass by Wickenburg’s Korbyn Dowdy — which left the Wranglers leading 16-13 at halftime.

A clock-draining running game that accumulated 75 yards helped Wickenburg maintain that lead — until Rivera’s ears perked up to the Wickenburg coaches — had Round Valley’s coaches fearful that the Elks’ season would end with a one-and-done playoff run.

“It was concerning that they were able to do that and we knew that’s what they were going to try to do — slowly, methodically try to drive down the field and they did a great job,” said Baca, who is commanding the Round Valley program in his first season as head coach. “That’s the thing. They had the lead. It was concerning that we were not able at times to get off the field, but in the fourth quarter when we had to we had a couple of big stops and made some plays on defense and that’s what saved the game for us because our offense was kind of in the same boat. We were stuck in the mud. It was concerning for a little while, but our kids came and made the plays at the right time.”

(1) comment

White Mountain Resident

it was close, but the Elks somehow pulled it out. They need to have a great defense and no throwing of interceptions if they are to beat Yuma Catholic. Go Elks!

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