It's strange to say a game with more than 100 total points turned on a defensive play.
But the one stop in the fourth quarter was enough for visiting Peoria Sunrise Mountain to bring home a 57-47 win back from Paradise Valley in a Division III slugfest on Friday night.
Holding on to a 50-47 lead with 2:30 remaining, the Mustangs forced P.V.'s prolific quarterback, Ryan Finley, to rush a screen pass to junior Carl Westlund, who turned his body around but could only pop the ball in the air. Sunrise Mountain defensive end Jonthan Salari tracked the batted pass and made a diving interception at the Mustangs' 19.
"I saw that their tackle went off, so I bounced off him. Their quarterback turned right away so I reached up my hand as high as I could and tipped that," Salari said. "I turned around, he missed the catch and caught it just before it hit the ground."
From there, junior tailback Elijah Castro ripped off runs of 47, 19 and 18 yards to give Sunrise Mountain (7-1) some breathing room. The last dash, on which he spun off tackles and lunged into the end zone put the visitors up 10 with 1:23 left.
"Our offensive line is great kids on and off the field. We went in at halftime and asked them what they felt like we should do," Castro said. "We did what they wanted and they opened some big holes. I couldn't do anything without them."
However Finley, who passed for four touchdowns and ran in two more, was not done. He drove Paradise Valley (5-3) down to the 7 in 50 seconds before Castro picked off his throw into tight coverage near the goal line.
The teams combined for 101 points in their 2011 meeting a 52-49 Mustangs win and returned most of their playmakers. But the expected shootout was slow to materialize.
The squads were tied at 7-7 after one quarter. Paradise Valley crossed up the Mustangs with eight first-quarter runs by sophomore Bailey Thompson.
On their second drive, the Trojans mixed in their lethal short-range passing game. Finley found his favorite target, senior Joey Gatewood, running along the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.
Sunrise Mountain was prepared for the directional kickoff, moving up Castro and junior speedster Nick Haleman to the second row of the return team. The change paid off as Haleman fielded the pooch kick at the 26 and returned it 74 yards to tie the game.
Two Sunrise Mountain fumbles inside their own 25 sparked the Trojans' 24-point second quarter. Quarterback Neiman Sneed coughed it up at the 24 and Finley hit junior Trent Gavelek for a 10-yard scoring toss soon after.
The Trojans regained the lead in less than three minutes on Finley's scramble from the 11, though a missed extra point left it at 20-14. Then both teams cranked up their offenses, combining for three touchdowns in the final two minutes.
Castro dropped a handoff at the 23. Westlund scored from three yards out on a fly sweep to make it 27-14.
The Trojans countered by forgetting to cover one of the state's most dangerous wideouts. Sneed gunned it to senior Elroy Masters at the Trojans' 40 and no defender was within 10 yards. Masters cut back across the field and completed the 78-yard touchdown pass.
However, the quick score left Finley with 1:29 to operate. He completed four passes to bring the home team inches away. Senior Devon Graffis was stopped at the 1 and Paradise Valley called a time out with two seconds left.
Going for broke on fourth down, Finley connected with a sliding Gatewood and secured a 34-21 halftime lead.
The advantage lasted another 12 seconds of game time, as Castro returned the second-half kickoff 89 yards to score.
"I think the opening kickoff for the touchdown was huge," Paradise Valley coach Donnie Yantis said. "I told these kids before we walked out of the locker room that this kickoff was probably the most important kickoff of the year. It gave them life."
Paradise Valley stalled, but Finley's punt forced the Mustangs to start at their own 2. Sunrise Mountain responded with a 12-play drive to take the lead, capped by Sneed's eight-yard dash into the end zone.
Two minutes later, the home team again was riding the crest of momentum. Finley regained the lead on a seven-yard run.
Then, the Trojans won the scrum for an onside kick. On the next play, Finley threw a bubble screen to junior Jordan Brown, who took off down the sidelines for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Suddenly down 47-35, the Mustangs answered back equally fast. Corey Brown went off tackle on the next play from scrimmage and breezed 65 yards to the end zone.
On third and goal, Sneed set up a middle screen to Castro, who scooted 10 yards to give Sunrise Mountain the lead. Then he caught Sneed's two-point conversion pass and stretched the ball over then plane for a 50-47 lead.
The Mustangs would seal the game with their two late interceptions, rebounding after Boise State-bound Finley carved up their defense for 45 minutes.
The senior completed 31 of 48 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns, and added 36 rushing yards and two scores. Gatewood made a remarkable 17 catches for 199 yards, while Brown added seven receptions for 120 yards.
Sneed completed 12 of 16 throws for 190 yards and rushed for 70 yards on 18 carries for Sunrise Mountain. Masters snagged seven passed for 155 yards.
Shifty Castro finished with 102 yards on 11 carries, while power back Brown added 99 on nine totes.
Paradise Valley wraps its home schedule against Cactus Shadows next week. Should the Trojans win out, their passing attack can give even the best Division III defenses fits.
"I told the kids losses like this sometimes bring out a man's true character. You can pout, put your head down and make excuses or you can look your men in the eye and say 'We made these mistakes and we're going to get better,'" Yantis said. "We'll get better. The sun will rise tomorrow and we'll get to work on Cactus Shadows in the morning."
Sunrise Mountain 57, Paradise Valley 47
Sunrise Mountain 7 14 21 15 -- 57
Paradise Valley 7 27 13 0 -- 47
First Downs: SM: 12; PV: 23
Rushing: SM: 39-274; PV: 36-112
Passing: SM: 12-16-190-0; PV: 31-48-365-2
Fumbles-Lost: SM: 2-2; PV: 2-2
Penalties-Yards: SM: 8-76; PV: 7-71
PV - Joey Gatewood 5 pass from Ryan Finley (Payson Keller kick)
SM - Nick Haleman 74 kickoff return (Eric Masten said)
PV - Trent Galavek 10 pass from Finley (Keller kick)
SM - Corey Brown 3 run (Masten kick)
PV - Finley 11 run (kick failed)
PV - Carl Westlund 3 run (Keller kick)
SM - Elroy Masters 78 pass from Neiman Sneed (Masten kick)
PV - Gatewood 1 pass from Finley (Keller kick)
SM - Elijah Castro 89 kickoff return (Masten said)
SM - Sneed 8 run (Masten kick)
PV - Finley 7 run (Keller kick)
PV - Jordan Brown 40 pass from Finley (pass failed)
SM - Brown 65 run (Masten kick)
SM - Castro 10 pass from Sneed (Castro pass from Sneed)
SM - Castro 18 run (Masten said)