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Green Valley rallies past Desert Pines with 2nd-half surge

Trailing by two touchdowns at halftime, Green Valley needed someone to get the Gators started and then someone to finish the job.

Running back Jaylen McKnight carried the offense to open the second half Friday night before going out with an injured ankle and giving way to Josiah Edwards, who had some crucial carries as the Gators left Desert Pines with a 21-14 victory.

When Desert Pines (3-2, 1-1 Class 5A Mountain League) led 14-0 at halftime, only McKnight had done much offensively for Green Valley (5-1, 1-0), rushing for 102 yards on 11 carries. He was given the ball 12 times in the first three drives of the second half, picking up 74 more yards.

“We came out a little slow, but after halftime it got in our head that we need to win this game,” McKnight said. “And that’s what we did.”

His running set up a 39-yard play-action touchdown pass from Josiah Kiaaina to Alfredo Rodriguez early in the second half, and Edwards tied the game with a 1-yard run with 2:25 left in the third quarter.

But just as Green Valley was driving to take the lead, McKnight rolled his left ankle early in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. Coach Brian Castro said sidelining McKnight was a precaution.

“We wanted a guy with some fresh legs there at the end, but without (McKnight) carrying the load for the bulk of that game, we might be in trouble,” Castro said.

Shortly after McKnight left, Kiaaina connected with Rodriguez again, this time for a 48-yard touchdown with 9:41 left for a 21-14 lead.

Without McKnight, the Gators had to largely rely on their defense and Edwards to hold on.

First, the defense came up with a fourth-and-1 stop with 5:25 left when linebackers Mathius Aleaga and Sonny Vitale tackled Desert Pines running back Jovantae Barnes for a 2-yard loss. It was the last of 17 carries for Barnes, who rushed for 103 yards, because Green Valley then drained all but four seconds off the clock.

That was largely because of Edwards, who early in the drive took a pitch on third-and-6 and ran for 7 yards. He and Kiaaina kept the series alive with timely runs, and Edwards finished with 52 yards rushing and Kiaaina with 41.

“When I saw (McKnight) go out, I felt no fear,” Edwards said. “I had to pick up where he left off and keep doing what he was doing.”

Green Valley found a way, which left the Jaguars trying to find answers.

“We’re just so young on the D-line, and we’ve got two freshmen starting,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. “We got pushed around, and we didn’t make the adjustments quick enough. We couldn’t get anything going on offense, and we struggled stopping the run.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.