When you get down to it, there really are only a few precious opportunities for most players to make something happen during any given football game.
On Friday night against Highland, Basha junior Devin Reed made sure not to let any such moments go to waste.
In a physical game played primarily between the numbers, it was two plays by Reed – the only two times he touched the ball – that proved to be the difference in a 21-10 Basha victory over the visiting Hawks.
With his team up 7-3 midway through the third quarter, Reed intercepted a Merrick Madrid pass at the Bears’ 37-yard line. Reed zigged and zagged his way across midfield and deep into Highland territory, where he was knocked out of bounds at the Hawks’ 8-yard line. Quarterback Matt Horton scored from a yard out two plays later to give Basha (5-1, 2-0 Central Region) a two-score lead.
Highland (2-4, 0-2) utilized a pair of fourth-down conversions – including a fake punt – to cut the lead to 14-10 in the third, before Basha had its own crunch-time chance to make something in the final frame. After already converting one fourth down on its late fourth-quarter drive, the Bears lined up on fourth-and-1 at the Highland 11. Reed took the pitch outside, found the hole and sprinted into the end zone to knock the Hawks out for good.
“(Coaches) told me at halftime that I’m going to have to come in. I know that I’m not going to get too many carries because I have to play defense, but the mentality from the beginning – me and my dad talk about this – it’s to make the most of the opportunities I get,” Reed said, noting that an injury to leading rusher Quintin Del Re in the first half led to more opportunities on offense.
While Highland made its living in the first half by converting seven times on third down, the Hawks resorted to four-down football multiple times in the second half while the lead was less than a touchdown.
On Highland’s third-quarter scoring drive, it lined up for a punt on fourth-and-long just inside midfield. After the punt team lined up tight to protect Madrid, who was in position as the punter, four Hawks – two on each side – shifted out toward the sidelines. Basha failed to adjust out of its punt return formation, and Madrid took the long snap, looked over the middle, and hit Carter Bailey in stride for a 15-yard gain and the first down. Three plays later, on fourth-and-7, Madrid hit Bailey again, this time for a 28-yard scoring pass to cut the deficit to 14-10.
“I don’t think anybody plays harder than we do, we just have to play smarter,” Highland coach Pete Wahlheim said. “These penalties killed us. We beat ourselves. This football team is a good football team. We’ve got penalties on offense. And defensively, quite honestly, we’ve got to get off the field sooner.”
It wasn’t so much the number of penalties – not that 13 flags was OK with Wahlheim by any stretch – but rather the timing of some of his team’s mental miscues. On two occasions early on, where Highland looked to have picked up momentum behind the running of Jake Vehonsky, flags kept the Hawks from going anywhere. On one occasion, holding penalties gave the Hawks a first-and-32 situation, while on the other, they were stuck with first-and-28.
Basha defensive back Bryce Cole said that in the wake of his team’s 20-14 upset loss to Yuma Cibola – albeit to a Cibola team that was 5-0 entering play Friday – it was going to be up to the Bears’ defense to defeat Highland.
“Our defense just never takes off a play,” Cole said. “We made plays when we had to.”
In addition to Reed’s interception, Brock Davis also had a late pick for the Bears.
Basha’s first touchdown came on a 25-yard pass from Kyle Duran – Basha’s throwing option at quarterback, splitting time with runner Horton – two minutes into the second quarter.
Highland first got on the board four minutes later with a 32-yard field goal by Austin Casillas.
Basha hits the road to face Dobson next week, while Highland is at home against Mountain View.