Knights beat Thundercats in Las Vegas Bowl
Curtis Kissel (center) of the Imperial Valley Knights almost takes the opening kickoff of the game against the San Diego Thundercats for a touchdown before being caught from behind. (DENNIS JACOBELLI PHOTO / March 24, 2012)
The Knights won the Great West Conference championship in their first full season in the Imperial Valley.
Knights’ coach Sean Johnson and Thundercats’ player/coach Justin McKenzie both petitioned Great West Conference officials to play the game in the Valley.
The game was what you expect from a veteran team and the new kids on the block.
“It’s always great to play at home and the crowd helped us,” Johnson said. “We’re young so we started out right but then made mistakes and a veteran team will make you pay.”
The Knights took a 7-0 lead on a pass interception return and after the Thundercats tied the game, Knights quarterback Hector Ayala threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Hellum and Ayala then hooked up with Rashad Jones for a 45-yard touchdown pass
“I knew I needed to come through for my team and my line blocked well and my receivers held on to the ball and made me look good,” Ayala, a 2008 Southwest High graduate, said. “
After another Thundercat touchdown run, the Knights lead 20-13 at half time.
The Knights forced a safety on the Thundercats in the third quarter then finished their scoring 3 minutes into the fourth quarter on a 14-yard touchdown run by Danny Garcia.
“I’m a wide receiver and it was a reverse and I came around the corner and saw Hellum leading the way,” said Garcia, a 2011 Calexico High grad. “It feels good to win and represent the Valley … I know these other teams have been around.”
An onside kick and recovery led to a Thundercat touchdown pass then a series of errors put the Knights 29-21 lead in jeopardy.
Knights’ kicker Brian Avina, another 2011 graduate of Calexico, then kicked a 44-yard field goal, which was negated by a penalty, then his punt was negated by a penalty, giving the visitors the ball at midfield.
The Thundercats final drive and hopes for a win were snatched away when Knights defensive back Angel Gonzalez came up with a key interception.