The Vegas Golden Knights christened a new building with a win to open its inaugural season, putting on a defensive showcase in the process.
Vegas beat the Northern Arizona Wranglers, 22-9, Friday, March 18 from the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada.
It was the first professional event for the arena that opened last week.
“It’s humbling to be honest with you,” head coach Mike Davis said. “Those kids played so hard and the people in this organization that worked hard to fill this place – I mean, it’s one for the record books.”
Two more games against the Wranglers lie ahead on the schedule for the Knight Hawks following the removal of the Spokane Shock from the IFL.
The three contests will take place in the first eight weeks of the 16-week season.
“It’s a good building block,” Davis said. “We’ve got to start somewhere, you know. You can’t win the championship today, you can’t lose the championship today but you can get out on the right foot and we got out on the right foot.” Next, Vegas will host the Tucson Sugar Skulls Sunday, March 27 from the DLC. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
In the team’s opener, it relied on three forced turnovers and seven in total including four turnovers on down.
Turnovers helped turn a nine-point halftime lead to an eventual 19-point lead in the second half.
Northern Arizona fumbled the ball on its opening possession of the second half, setting up Vegas from the two-yard line.
Following a Knight Hawk touchdown, the Wranglers turned the ball over again, this time via an interception.
Cornerback Kyree McLean came up with the ball 57 seconds after Northern Arizona took over on offense.
Earlier in the contest, cornerback and North Las Vegas native CJ Jones secured the first interception in team history.
Over the first two possessions of the first half, the Wranglers held the ball for a total of 1:37 with a running clock per IFL rules.
In the fourth quarter, Vegas forced two turnovers on downs before allowing its first touchdown of the season with 39 seconds left in the game.
“Hats off to the defense tonight,” quarterback Jaylon Henderson said. “They definitely got plenty of stops out there, I think [the Wranglers] only got one touchdown right at the end. Those guys work hard every single day. We’ve got guys on both sides of the ball – all phases of the ball that really work hard every single day so it wasn’t really a surprise to see them come out here and put it on for the fans.”
Over the course of the contest, the defense allowed just 60 yards from Northern Arizona.
The Knight Hawks opened the contest with a delay of game and eventual turnover on downs to start its inaugural season.
However, from there the team put up a dominant performance.
The first points in team history came in the form of a field goal a minute and a half into the second quarter.
Former UNLV quarterback Dalton Sneed got the start and went two drives, throwing for 28 yards on 3-of-8 passing to go along with 23 yards and three carries.
“We’ve just got to get it cleaned up,” Davis said. “We had guys running wide-open and something always broke down. We could never get eight guys clicking all at the same time, it was seven guys and then one guy made a bust.”
Henderson took over midway through the second quarter and would go on to score the first touchdowns in history for the franchise.
Henderson found wide receiver KD Cannon from seven yards out to put the Knight Hawks up 9-3 after a missed extra point from kicker Nathan Criswell, who went 2-for-5 on the night with a missed extra point.
Henderson also accounted for Vegas’ first rushing touchdown in franchise history, pushing the lead to 16 subsequently.
“I got what we expected,” Davis said. “We just kind of needed a little spark. [The defense] was giving us some different things and he was able to capitalize on that.”
Henderson finished with 71 yards through the air and a touchdown on 8-of-14 passing. He also rushed for 24 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
Less than two minutes before halftime, defensive lineman Nick Woodman was slow to get up and was helped off-the-field putting almost entirely zero weight on his right leg.
In the season opener last season for Spokane, Woodman ruptured his achilles.
“I think that’s exactly what they portrayed tonight,” Davis said when asked about the defense’s “blue-collar” mentality. “One guy went down and the next man stepped up, [linebacker] Gabe McCoy played two positions, [linebacker] Javahn Ferguson played two positions, [defensive lineman] Kai Higgins played two positions, [defensive lineman] Izaah Burks Sr. played two positions just filling in for guys.”
In the second half, center Tyrone Patterson had his lower half rolled upon by Henderson on his touchdown run.
He would leave and not return.