Two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and the play-of-the-game gave the White Pine High football team a hard-fought and dramatic 30-20 win over visiting Needles, a non-league game for both teams, but a tune-up for the state playoffs that begin this week.
The Bobcats staged a late goal line stand against the Mustangs at the 1-yard line, forcing them to turn the ball over with about three minutes remaining.Then a minute later, Phoenix Ball ripped off a 96 yard game clinching TD.
It snapped a five game losing streak to Needles, who had not played in Ely since 2015, and was the first win for White Pine over their former league rivals since 2011.
The Bobcats were trailing the Mustangs 20-15 as the final period began, but were driving into Needles’ red zone and scored on a 2-yard run and with the two-point conversion took a 23-20 lead with about nine minutes left.
The Mustangs took the kickoff at their own 27-yard line and mounted a 72-yard drive that finally stalled at the White Pine 1-yard line.
Coach Nick Lopez said this is when all the drama occurred. “Needles had a first and goal at the 3-yard line, but we just shut them down at that point.They kept it on the ground, tried to up the middle, tried to go outside. We just shut them down each time. A great credit to our kids.”
That set the stage for Ball’s 96-yard thriller. “They thought we were going to go to the outside,” Lopez said, “and moved their middle backer out. Seeing that, we just ran it up the gut with Phoenix.”
Being the star sprinter in track he is, he was virtually untouched.
White Pine then held Needles on downs on their next possession.
This week, the 2A Northern playoffs begin. White Pine (6-4) plays at league champ Yerington (8-1).
Lopez feels “the Lions are beatable.” The Bobcats did beat the Lions last year 38-30, but lost this year’s first meeting 47-0.
“If we can shut their ground game down, they have to change their offense and I don’t know if they have anything to fall back on. I think we can shut down their run game,” Lopez said. “The reason I think so is because we’re nearly back to 100 percent.”
He said. “We’re doing big things, have most of the injured players back with us again. We have the heaviest line in the 2A North. We should have been dominant during the season, Injuries have been what has hurt us.”
The other 2A Northern playoff matchup Friday night has three-time defending state champion Pershing County (5-3) at Battle Mountain (6-3).
In the 2A South, the pairings have league-winner Lincoln County (7-2) hosting Lake Mead (3-5) and Calvary Chapel (0-9) playing at Needles (3-6).
The reason winless Calvary Chapel made the playoffs is because there are only four teams in the 2A Southern league since The Meadows, Laughlin and Mountain View pulled out and played 8-man ball this year as independents, leaving just four teams for the four playoff spots.
Pairings for the state semifinals next week will be decided later by the NIAA.