FARMINGTON — Saturday night's game against Moriarty was supposed to be the first true test for the previously unbeaten Piedra Vista Panthers.
Instead, it proved to be No. 4 Piedra Vista's finest performance of the season. The Panthers racked up touchdowns and forced five turnovers en route to a 49-0 win over No. 9 Moriarty at Hutchison Stadium.
It also served as another example of how drastic the turnaround has been for PV, who lost to the same Moriarty team 51-14 in 2011.
“It felt awesome to get that win. Give it up to our defense, they are outstanding,” said PV junior quarterback Isaiah Valdez, who was 11-18 passing for 163 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. “They gave us opportunities to score and kept giving us opportunities all night. Total team effort out there for this win.”
PV (5-0) forced Moriarty (2-3) to a quick punt on the game's opening possession. The Panthers offense responded with a 14-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that finished on a Valdez 10-yard touchdown run.
The drive ate up almost seven minutes of clock in the first quarter.
PV's defense forced another three-and-out on Moriarty's following possession, and the Fighting Pintos' defense was right back on the field.
The Panthers didn't capitalize on the drive as Beau Clafton was short on a 44-yard field goal attempt, but PV had already done enough work to wear out the Moriarty defense.
PV ran the ball effectively for 258 yards on 45 carries in the game.
“We knew that Moriarty had nine kids going both ways, so it was big for us to methodically march the ball down the field and slow them down,” said PV senior Bryson Martinez. “Our big plays came once the defense was wearing down. We made them play short runs up the middle of the field, and then we hit them with the deep ball.”
Clafton was wide left on a 39-yard field goal try on the Panthers' next possession following a Kason Wilkinson fumble recovery that gave PV the ball back.
On Moriarty's next drive, the Fighting Pintos once again fumbled on a botched handoff exchange. Nick Varley recovered for the Panthers to set PV's offense up on the Moriarty 14-yard line.
One play later, Stratton Waller was in the end zone on a touchdown run to give PV a 14-0 lead.
Waller demoralized the Moriarty defense on his 16 carries that he took for 85 yards right through the middle of the Moriarty defense.
The Panthers took their 14-0 lead into halftime, but it could have been much larger as three touchdown plays were negated by offensive penalties.
“We have preached all year long that there is going to be hurdles we have to overcome,” said PV head coach Jared Howell. “We don't know what those hurdles are going to be in any given game, but we have to focus on the hurdle, find a way to overcome it and get over it. There is always that barrier, but the guys really stayed focused on what we were trying to accomplish instead of on the penalties.”
PV was clearly focused in the second half as the Panthers scored 28 points in the third quarter.
Jacob Armijo took a screen pass from Valdez 23 yards for six points on the first drive of the second half for PV.
Ryan Rino recovered another Moriarty fumble a few minutes later and the Panthers scored in just two plays.
This time it was Martinez taking a screen pass 40 yards to the house.
“Our saying is no one can stop us but us,” Martinez said. “All five games this year some penalties and mental mistakes have hurt us, but we definitely think we can line up and put up points against any defense as long as we stay even keeled and do our thing.”
Valdez found the end zone on a run once again to finish PV's next drive that went 68 yards in just six plays.
A Wyatt Hardy interception gave PV the ball once more and Beau Clafton scored on a 20-yard run one play later to give PV a 42-0 lead right before the end of the third quarter.
The Panthers played their second string offensive unit the rest of the fourth quarter, and backup quarterback Jace Dubick scored on a four-yard run for PV's final touchdown.
An Aaron Rino interception set up Dubick's score.
PV's defense held Moriarty's powerful rushing attack to just 60 yards on 23 attempts.
It was a big surprise for Howell, who said he was anxious going into Saturday's game to see just how his defense would stop such a potent rushing attack that put up 34 points against No. 5 Belen.
Moriarty was just 3-8 passing with two interceptions and only eight yards.
“The key this week was focusing on our jobs, filling our gaps and stopping the run,” said Wilkinson. “We definitely feel like anytime we get five turnovers that our offense can go get five touchdowns. Not to sound cocky or anything but, defensively, we are confident enough in our offense that they will turn our takeaways into points.”
Both the offense and defense have helped fuel each other this year, Hardy said.
“This feels amazing. This is the closest team we have ever had and we can all trust each other,” he said. “It makes doing your job so much easier because you aren't worried about anybody else doing theirs.”
At the end of the game, PV players and coaches alike sang praises of the offensive line.
“We have a lot of weapons, and that is a tremendous thing to have,” Howell said. “But the key is we have guys up front that are allowing everything to happen. That is really our success.
“We have the weapons, but they are useless if you can't get your gun out of your holster. Our offensive line is allowing us to fire bullets.”
PV has homecoming night on Friday at Hutchison Stadium where the Panthers will host 0-5 Bernalillo, who is coming off a loss to Gallup.
“We can't overlook anybody. If we do, they can get us at anytime,” Wilkinson said. “Homecoming is fun and it will be a good week, but our focus has to stay on Bernalillo this Friday night.”