Dayton’s dream season comes to an end
Appeal Sports Writer
DAYTON – After having a dream season and going unbeaten in 10 games, the Dayton Dust Devils finally ran out of magic on Saturday.
The Dust Devils kept finding ways to stay in the game but they ultimately couldn’t overcome seven turnovers and lost to the Virgin Valley Bulldogs, 21-19, in the Class 3A state semifinals at Dayton High School.
“The kids just played their hearts out,” said Bulldogs coach Kirk Hafen. “The last three or four weeks they’ve improved as we’ve gone along. Hats off to our defense. They played their hearts out. That was a good team we just faced.”
Dayton outgained the Bulldogs 429-364 and Dust Devils quarterback Travis Wood, playing with an injured right hand, passed for 331 yards and three touchdowns, but his five interceptions – and two Trace Feemster fumbles – gave Virgin Valley too many opportunities.
“You can’t have seven turnovers,” Dust Devils coach Rick Walker said. ” It’s just one of those deals. We got away with five turnovers against Truckee. Even after six (today) we still had a shot.”
Virgin Valley quarterback Doug Hafen ruined a nice defensive stand by Dayton – which stopped the Bulldogs on three plays inside its 10-yard line – when he hit a wide-open Austin Goff for an 8-yard touchdown with 6 minutes, 16 seconds to go. Spencer Zarate missed the extra point and Virgin Valley had a 21-13 lead.
Seven plays later Wood hit running back Brandon Aguilera for a 19-yard score, but Casimiro Zarate – who also had 224 yards rushing and a sack – shut down Wood on the 2-point conversion and the Dust Devils were still behind, 21-19.
Dayton stopped the Bulldogs’ next drive and got the ball back on the Virgin Valley 38 with 2:14 left, but Hafen picked off Wood on the first play.
The Dust Devils defense held once again and its offense got one more try, getting back the ball with 1:04 to go.
On a third-and-23 from his own 35, Wood found Anthony Onstott for a 14-yard gain, with 28 seconds to go. On the subsequent fourth-and-4, however, Wood threw his fifth pick – this one to J.P. Parker – and the Dust Devils’ magical season came to a close.
“The kids had a lot of pride in themselves,” Walker said. “I know it hurts now. We’ll move on from there.”
Walker said Wood, who also plays strong safety, hit his knuckle (on his throwing hand) on a helmet while on defense.
“His right knuckle was swollen up like a golf ball in the second quarter,” Walker said. “He tried to keep it warm. He wasn’t going to come out of the game.”
Unfortunately for Dayton, neither was Zarate for the Bulldogs. He proved to be a thorn in the Dust Devils’ side the whole game. Virgin Valley finished with 277 yards on the ground.
“A ground attack is only as good as the linemen up front,” coach Hafen said. “We just wanted to get behind them and look for three or four yards a shot and look to break one.”
Zarate had a 40-yard run in the second quarter, another 40-yard burst in the third and a 50-yarder in the fourth.
“He’s a heck of a kid,” Hafen said. “He had close to 2,000 yards this season. But if you talk to him, he’d tell you it was all the front line. He played with so much heart today.”
“He’s a stud,” Walker said of Zarate. “He ran for (2,000) yards for a reason. He’s a tough kid. They did a great job of blocking up front.”
Walker said the Dust Devils defense performed well and kept the score down.
“They did a good job. They kept us in the game,” Walker said. “The offense let us down. We had too many turnovers.”
The Dust Devils got on the scoreboard first when Wood hit Hopper for a 19-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead in the first quarter.
Virgin Valley took a 7-6 lead into halftime after Hafen scored on a 3-yard run.
Parker – who also had two picks – scored from 18 yards out and Zarate followed with a 2-point conversion to give Virgin Valley a 15-6 lead with 6:34 to go in the third.
Wood hooked up with Feemster for a 66-yard touchdown to close the gap to 15-13, but Hafen hit Goff for the 21-13 lead.
Aguilera had a team-high 65 yards on 13 carries and Hopper picked up 185 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions, but it wasn’t enough for Dayton to advance to its first-ever state championship game.
Nevertheless, the 10-1 Dust Devils accomplished what no other Dayton team ever has and will be putting up a Northern 3A championship banner in its rafters soon.
“They accomplished a lot,” said Walker, who will graduate 17 seniors. ” I’m proud of them. (The banner) will be up in the gym with their name on it. It’ll be cool for them to come back to the gym and see it.”
Virgin Valley, 9-3, will meet Moapa Valley for the Class 3A state championship next week.