Fans of the Phoenix Arcadia football team made dozens of ‘region champion’ hats before Friday night’s game against Gilbert Williams Field.
With the teams deadlocked atop the 4A-II East Sky Region, it was an expensive gamble.
Their optimism proved clairvoyant.
While the offense has carried the team all season, it was Arcadia’s defense that held the Black Hawks in check all night, leading to a 35-14 win at Arcadia.
Arcadia will be the No. 7 seed in the 4A-II state tournament, hosting No. 10 Douglas in the first round. Williams Field is the fourth seed and will host No. 13 Tucson Amphitheater.
The Titans (8-2, 7-0) lost two of their first three games but navigated through a tough 4A-II East Sky Region without a blemish, taking home the region title by beating previously undefeated Williams Field (9-1, 6-1).
“I wanted this so bad for these kids,” Arcadia coach Jim Ellison said. “They’ve worked so hard. We stuck with our game plan, and they worked their butts off. I can’t be more proud of the kids than I am right now.”
Early in the year, the Arcadia defense gave up a 4A rushing record of 592 yards in a 49-35 loss to Paradise Valley.
As recently as last week, the Titans gave up 455 rushing yards in a 63-45 win against Tempe.
But in this one, the defense was stout against anything Williams Field threw at it.
The Black Hawks mustered just 124 yards on the ground and 145 through the air, with the majority of the aerial yardage coming late with the game already out of reach.
The Arcadia secondary played the Williams Field receivers one-on-one much of the game but still only allowed Williams Field quarterbacks to complete 9 of 27 passes.
“Every possession our offense was saying, ‘Who are these guys (the Titans’ defense)?’” Arcadia wide receiver Joey Artigue said. “(Our defense) played great.”
Arcadia’s offense played well, as it generally does.
Quarterback Colby Kirkegaard was 11-of-17 passing for 220 yards and three touchdowns, although he was intercepted twice.
The biggest pass of the day was to Artigue, a 96-yard touchdown strike that extended Arcadia’s lead to 14-0 midway through the second quarter.
Williams Field turned the ball over on downs at Arcadia’s 1-yard line just two plays before.
The game went into halftime with Arcadia ahead just 14-0 because Kirkegaard was picked off on a second-and-goal from the Williams Field 5-yard line late in the second quarter.
Williams Field received the second-half kickoff but couldn’t do anything on that possession and had to punt, a similar theme throughout the night.
The game stayed 14-0 until 9:59 remained in the fourth quarter, when Cesar Garcia ran the ball in from 10 yards out to put the Titans ahead 21-0.
Williams Field scored on a 19-yard run by Tom Ross with 6:41 remaining, but Arcadia drove down the field and answered on a 30-yard run by Bradley Tefft to put the game away.
Arcadia only forced one turnover, but its defense played so well that it didn’t matter.
Williams Field often went to four-wide-receiver formations on offense, but the Titans kept their linebackers on the field to stop the run and forced the Black Hawks to beat them through the air.
“They wanted to beat us on the ground, and we were going to take that away,” Ellison said.
LIVE IN-GAME UPDATES
Williams Field fumbles on its first offensive play and the Titans make them pay, as Kirkegaard hits McClain from 4 yards out to make it Arcadia 7, Williams Field 0 with 2:20 left in the first quarter.
Kirkegaard hits Artigue for a 96-yard TD pass to make it Arcadia 14, Williams Field 0 in the middle of the second quarter.
Garcia scores on a 10-yard run to extend Arcadia's lead to 21-0 with 9:59 left in the game.
Tom Ross finally gets Williams Field on the board with a 19-yard TD run, cutting Arcadia's lead to 21-7 with 6:41 left in the game.
Brad Tefft scores on a 30-yard run for Arcadia to put the Titans ahead 28-7 with just four minutes left to play.
Gomez hauls in an 11-yard TD pass from Kirkegaard, making it Arcadia 35, Williams Field 7 with 2:01 remaining.
Williams Field tacks on a late touchdown, but it's too little, too late, as Arcadia pulls off the 35-14 upset win over the Black Hawks.