Dysart entered Friday's game with Peoria looking mostly for respect, but an early third-quarter touchdown brought the Demons within seven and had the home team thinking about an upset.
Peoria (5-2, 3-0) quickly regained control, recovering Dysart's ensuing onside kick and rushing for all 53 yards of its scoring drive. The Panthers scored again before the quarter was finished, and held firm for a 28-7 win in the West Valley Region game.
Yet, the mood in Peoria's postgame huddle was far from jubilation.
"It's like we played good one quarter, took a quarter off, played good in the third quarter," Peoria coach Doug Clapp said. "We're not playing a complete game, but the defense played good."
After the game, it was the rebuilding Dysart (3-4, 1-2) program that seemed in the more upbeat frame of mind.
"I told them that they took another step forward there, and they played with a pretty good team," Dysart coach Josh Mitchell said. "I also told them that I'll never be upset about a loss when we play really well and another team was better that night."
The Demons would have been in a bit better mood if they could have stopped Peoria senior tailback A.J. Taylor.
Taylor began the game splitting carries with fellow senior L.A. Dowell, but handled the load once Dowell left with a knee injury late in the first quarter. He rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
"I'm kind of sore, but I don't feel it right now," Taylor said. "I'm happy that we got the W."
The compact (5-6, 185) Taylor had already made his mark before Dowell's injury. One play after junior Trent Aldrete returned a punt 25 yards to Dysart's 15, Taylor bounced to the outside and scampered 15 yards for a score to put Peoria up 14-0.
Peoria's first touchdown came less than two minutes before Taylor's run on a 32-yard fly pattern from junior quarterback Caleb Gillispie to senior receiver K.J. Bowen.
In the second quarter Taylor continued to control the game, including a 38-yard gain on a draw up the middle. One yard from the end zone, it appeared Peoria would put the game away. However, on third down Gillispie lost the ball before he could hand it to Taylor and Dysart fell on it.
Neither team could move the ball before halftime. Taylor ended the half with 98 yards on 12 carries.
Dysart had entered Peoria territory only once in the first half, when senior receiver Leon May snagged senior quarterback James Hubbard's 38-yard pass at the Panther 31. Early in the second half, a Peoria miscue gave the Demons their best opportunity.
Gillispie's underthrown ball was snatched by senior defensive back Alex Gracia at Peoria's 37. Dysart moved backwards for a couple of plays, but on fourth down Hubbard hit senior receiver Marcos Herrera on a post pattern for a 38-yard touchdown.
Peoria then embarked on the game-defining drive. The offense moved the ball after the failed onside kick and appeared to have scored on a 34-yard pass from Gillispie to senior Javonte Fluellen.
An ineligible man downfield call wiped out the touchdown and left the Panthers in a third and 11 situation at the Dysart 39. Taylor took a handoff, ran toward the sideline and gave the ball to Bowen on a reverse that went for 21 yards. Bowen was Peoria's other offensive threat, picking up 45 yards on six rushes and 49 yards on the team's only two completed passes.
"K.J. did real good on that play, the line stuck with their blocks," Taylor said. "I just think coming back in the second half, we were all composure, just believing in ourselves that we could go down and score."
Three plays later, Taylor again got to the corner and scored from seven yards out.
Peoria's final scoring drive began with some help, in the form of a late hit on Aldrete's punt return. The Panthers began on Dysart's 25.
On fourth and five from the 20, Taylor spun out of a tackle to pick up six yards and a first down. He bulled his way in from three yards out two plays later.
Dysart threatened one more time, after junior defensive tackle Cesar Garcia sacked Gillispie and ripped the ball away at Peoria's 37. Hubbard converted a fourth down, but was sacked on two consecutive plays, killing the drive.
"I think we should have put 14 points on the board. 28-14 is still a loss but it's really respectable," Mitchell said. 'I still think this is respectable. I saw predictions that we were going to lose 46-6 or 52-14 and stuff like that."
Peoria's win sets up a showdown for the region lead next week in Prescott Valley. Bradshaw Mountain (4-3, 3-0) did not play this week and is ready for the Panthers.
"This is a big game. It probably will be for who has the leg up on the league," Clapp said. "We've got to play better and not make as many mental mistakes."
Bradshaw Mountain is also Dysart's toughest remaining opponent, as the Bears visit El Mirage on Oct. 30. That is sandwiched between road games against Avondale Agua Fria (Oct. 23) and Sunrise Mountain (Nov. 7).
"We've got three winnable games left," Mitchell said. "We just have to go out and execute."