OAKLEY — Chandler Jones was playing quarterback for the first time in his high school career, hoping to lead the Oakley High School football team to a district championship against the fourth-ranked team in the state.
On Friday night, the sophomore wearing No. 13 threw a district title-winning pass.
No. 2 Oakley defeated Valley 22-14 on Friday night at Oakley High School. The Snake River Conference win gave the Hornets (6-1, 6-0) their first outright district title since 2008.
“We felt like we were written off this week. People didn’t think we were gonna win,” Jones said. “We came out and proved everybody wrong. We’re district champs.”
Jones has been a key player for Oakley all season long, but before Friday, he was the one catching passes, not throwing them.
Regular starting quarterback Tate Cranney suffered a season-ending leg injury last week against Challis, so Jones was chosen to play the most important position in the most important game of the season.
On top of his quarterbacking duties, Jones had to cover Valley senior wide receiver Victor Lopez, who was playing his first game in weeks after battling injuries.
Oakley took an 8-0 lead midway through the first quarter, but Valley quickly answered with a 50-yard TD run from junior quarterback Jason Hardy. Near the end of the quarter, Jones completed a 41-yard pass to senior Sam Mitton to put the Hornets up 14-6.
“My idea was just come in calm, make plays, let my teammates make plays,” Jones said.
Midway through the second quarter, Lopez caught a Hardy pass and outran the defense for an 82-yard touchdown. The subsequent two-point conversion made the score 14-14, and the game had shootout vibes.
Instead, the game became a boxing match.
Both teams struggled to move the ball the next two quarters. The long offensive plays and turnovers mostly dried up, and a couple of seemingly pivotal plays netted nothing.
With 5:04 left in regulation, Oakley finally drove into the red zone and reached the 3-yard line. Max Alves ran left and almost reached the end zone, but Valley’s Victor Nava and Luis Cervantes stopped him. One of them stripped the ball out, and the Vikings recovered in the end zone to keep the game tied at 14-14.
Valley followed the fumble up with a healthy drive, but Oakley’s defense forced a stop on fourth down.
The Hornets got another fourth down stop on Valley’s next drive, and this time it was on the Vikings’ 34-yard line.
One play later, the Hornets ran a play called “Moses.” Sophomore Josh Nyman lined up in the backfield and ran a seam route down the field as Jones rolled right. Oakley’s tight ends, on opposite side of the lines, ran out routes to create a figurative parting of the Red Sea.
The action drew Valley’s defenders toward Jones, who saw a wide-open Nyman streaking down the left side of the field. Jones and Nyman connected for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:20 remaining.
“Valley’s a great team,” Nyman said. “The game wasn’t over.”
A week ago at Grace, the Vikings trailed 42-34 with 2:09 left. They scored a touchdown with 25 seconds left but took the loss after failing to convert the two-point conversion.
With 1:20 left on Friday, Valley quickly drove down the field. Lopez, who finished with 212 receiving yards on eight catches, had another long catch to put the Vikings in the red zone.
Soon, they were on the 3-yard line. Hardy ran up the middle but was stuffed short with 0:15 left, forcing Valley to take its final timeout. Hardy stayed down, writhing in pain and grabbing his lower left leg. He had to be helped off the field.
Senior Alejandro Mesa replaced Hardy, and he was sacked on his first play. The Vikings tried to spike the ball, but the clock ran out before they could get the snap off.
The loss dropped Valley to 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the SRC. The Vikings host Glenns Ferry in the season finale next week, and they need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
They’re hoping for good news on Hardy, who completed 13-of-37 passes for 296 yards, and ran for 127 yards on 23 carries.
Oakley senior lineman Jake Nyman, Josh’s brother, had 20 tackles and five sacks, according to head coach Kade Craner.
Oakley, which earned a tie for the SRC title in 2014, hosts rival Raft River next week to end the regular season. The Trojans beat the Hornets in last year’s 1A Division II state title game, and they handed Oakley its only loss of this season.
Raft River needs a win to stay alive in the playoff race. Oakley has nothing to lose.
“I’ve played varsity for four years now, and I’ve always had to take the rough route to the state title game,” Jake Nyman said. “This year, we got ‘er done. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Oakley 22, Valley 14
Valley; 6; 8; 0; 0; — 14
Oakley; 14; 0; 0; 8; — 22
O — Austin Bedke 2-yard run (Kobe Martin pass from Chandler Jones)
V — Jason Hardy 50-yard run (pass failed) 4:49
O — Sam Mitton 41-yard pass from Jones (run failed) 0:49
V — Victor Lopez 82-yard pass from Hardy (Alex Korom pass from Hardy) 6:20
O — Josh Nyman 34-yard pass from Jones (Max Alves pass from Jones) 1:20