With 19 new starters, there was bound to be a learning curve for defending champion Queen Creek in Friday’s football season opener against Poston Butte.
And while the offense showed its inexperience, the revamped defense needed no such time to adjust.
Ten new faces filled in seamlessly for the defending Division III state champions, allowing zero points as the No. 3 Bulldogs squeaked out a 21-12 victory over host Poston Butte.
The Broncos scored on a fumble recovery in the first quarter and on a punt return in the third but couldn’t muster any points from its offense, totaling just 138 yards on 44 plays, 62 of which came on a fake punt run by Brandon Hatfield.
“Did (the defense) pitch a shutout? Hey, I like that,” Queen Creek coach Joe Germaine. “I’m obviously very happy with how they played.”
Defensive lineman Skyler Bollman had three-and-a-half sacks in his first varsity game to set the tone. Germaine said Bollman’s unassuming stature embodies the program’s style.
“That’s us,” Germaine said. “That’s our football team. We’re never going to be the biggest. But they played hard. I’m happy with that.”
Despite the lack of offensive punch, Poston Butte hung tough throughout. Queen Creek led 14-6 in the third quarter and was inside the Broncos’ red zone, but running back Matt Guida coughed up the ball and it was recovered by Antonio Garcia.
The Broncos would cut the deficit to two points on a 60-yard punt return by Zaq Smith, although a penalty moved the ensuing two-point conversion back 15 yards and the pass was intercepted.
Poston Butte had the ball near midfield halfway through the fourth quarter, but another fake punt run by Hatfield on 4th-and-9 came up a yard short.
The Bulldogs then put together a game-clinching drive, punctuated by Guida’s second touchdown of the night -- this one from 1-yard out -- for a 21-12 lead with 31.7 seconds remaining.
Guida finished the game with 26 carries for 128 yards but it was workmanlike effort as Poston Butte paid him plenty of attention all night.
“If I’m not mistaken, they were putting nine guys in the box every play,” Guida said. “They definitely had a plan for our run game. They know we’re a smashmouth team on offense, so they stacked the box to stop us, and honestly, I thought they did a good job.”
Guida and quarterback Layne Roshay both sat out the first quarter, although Germaine said it was not a disciplinary issue but because they were nicked up. The Bulldogs trailed 6-0 after the first 12 minutes, and both players were on the field for the final three quarters.
Poston Butte had several big plays, including the fake punt run, the special teams touchdown and a fumble recovery for a touchdown by George Ruan for the early lead.
While coach Mike De La Torre was frustrated with the offense and a multitude of penalties, he saw some potential building blocks for the season.
“Defensively we played well,” he said. “You can’t ask for a better effort than that. And we had some flashes of special teams...We’ve got a chance to beat some people if we can get the other half of the game taken care of.”
Queen Creek has now won 15 games in a row, but an offense which only averaged 3.7 yards per play on Friday has some work to do moving forward.
“It wasn’t a game where we ever really got in a rhythm or got in a groove,” Germaine said.
Queen Creek 21, Poston Butte 12
First Downs: QC 17, PB 7
Rushing: QC 41-180, PB 30-115
Passing (comp.-att.-yards-TD-INT): QC 7-16-52-1-0, PB 2-14-23-0-0
Fumbles-lost: QC 3-1, PB 1-0
Penalties-yards: QC 5-40, PB 14-120
Queen Creek 0 7 7 7 -- 21
Poston Butte 6 0 6 0 -- 12
PB: Ruan 15 fumble recovery, pass failed
QC: Guida 12 run, Paulsen kick
QC: Redd 8 pass from Roshay, Paulsen kick
PB: Smith 60 punt return, pass failed
QC: Guida 1 run, Paulsen kick