FARMINGTON — Piedra Vista watched a 17-point lead and their state playoff hopes evaporate in a flash on Friday night.
No. 7 Valencia rallied at home to defeat No. 10 Piedra Vista 47-38 after trailing 31-14 early in the third quarter.
"This is the first time we have gotten in the playoffs and lost in the first round. It is pretty tough," said PV head coach Jared Howell. "We were definitely in position to advance, but we didn't get it done. Hats off to Valencia. Their kids and coaches adjusted well."
Trailing by three points with a minute and 30 seconds left in the game, the Piedra Vista Panthers (7-4) started a drive at the 50-yard line and marched all the way to the Valencia 24-yard line, where they faced a fourth down with 1-yard to gain for a first down. PV called its final timeout of the game to draw up a play, but a false start coming out of the timeout moved the Panthers backward 5 yards. On fourth down and 6 yards to go, PV senior quarterback Isaiah Valdez threw an interception that Valencia senior defensive back Joe Heneghan returned 76 yards for a touchdown, burying the Panthers' season.
"They made more big plays and came out on top," said PV senior Beau Clafton, who had three total touchdowns in the game.
Big plays dominated the action all night. Piedra Vista got out to a 7-0 lead thanks to a 41-yard Beau Clafton touchdown run before Valencia tied the game on a 60-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Garrett Gibson.
The Panthers reclaimed the lead at 10-7 when Clafton connected on a 29-yard field goal with 10:34 left in the first half.
Valencia (7-4) temporarily took a lead at 14-10 when Tyler McClarran busted a 72-yard touchdown run. It was a sign of things to come as McClarran scored on an 11-yard reception, a 4-yard run and a 92-yard punt return.
"(McClarran) play really good. He was a good, hard-nosed runner who made us pay," Clafton said.
Piedra Vista scored on a trick play to take a 17-14 lead with 3:34 left in the first half as Alex Shay threw a lateral pass to Valdez, who then threw the ball down field to Zach Ahlgrim, who went 64 yards for a touchdown.
Ahlgrim recovered a Valencia fumble on the following drive, setting up Valdez for a 1-yard touchdown run that gave PV a 24-14 lead going into halftime.
"That was huge for us. Our guys were doing everything we needed them to do," Howell said.
PV ran 36 plays in the first half to just 19 for Valencia. The Panthers had 253 yards of total offense in the first half while the Jaguars accumulated 232.
The second half was all Valencia as the Jaguars outgained the Panthers 206-96 in the final 24 minutes.
"They got momentum and chipped away at our lead. We got up three scores, and they kept coming back," Howell said. "We had a hard time keeping up with their speed."
Valencia punted quickly on the first possession of the second half. Clafton was able to return the punt 80 yards for a PV touchdown that gave the Panthers a 31-14 lead.
Three and a half minutes later, Valencia scored as Gibson hit McClarran for a touchdown pass.
PV had a chance to stretch its lead to 34-21, but Clafton pushed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide right. Valencia took just four plays to score another touchdown as Marcos Griego took a counter handoff 55 yards for a score.
PV went three-and-out on its next drive, and McClarran returned the punt 94 yards for a touchdown to give Valencia a 35-31 lead.
Fourteen seconds later, Clafton was in the end zone for PV as he returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to give the Panthers back the lead at 38-31. It proved to be the final score of the game for the Panthers.
"Beau performed. He was the big-play guy we needed, and he gave it to us this game," Howell said of his senior play maker.
Valencia stormed down the field 67 yards in a little more than four minutes. McClarran scored on a third-and-goal run from the 4-yard line to put the Jaguars up 41-38 with 1:30 to play. The touchdown was set up by a 15-yard gain on a 3rd-and-11 situation as Valencia ran a successful hook-and-ladder play.
"They made big plays and converted on that trick play hook-and-ladder. They also had drives extended on two pass interference calls on us," Howell said. "Those were penalties from our kids hustling. Credit them for taking advantage."
Heneghan's interception iced the game and brought an end to PV's season.
Valencia will face No. 2 Farmington in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Hutchison Stadium in Farmington. The date has yet to be determined. The Scorpions defeated Valencia 33-12 this season on Sept. 27 in Los Lunas.
The Panthers had hoped to get one more shot at crosstown rival Farmington in that game. Instead, the Panthers will have to wait until 2014 to play another game.
"I am extremely confident in next year's guys," said Clafton, who will graduate in May. "They have a bunch of good leaders, and all those guys played hard for us. I am excited to see what they do next year, and I know they can get back to the playoffs."John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.