After having such a difficult time stopping Thunderbird’s Kani Benoit in the first half, Queen Creek decided to take the ball out of his hands and put it into the possession of Matt Guida, its own star running back, in the second half.
The plan worked beautifully, as the host Bulldogs dominated following halftime en route to a 28-17 win over the Chiefs in the Division III quarterfinals. The second-seeded Bulldogs (12-0) will meet 14th-seeded Nogales, which has pulled off two straight upset.
Thunderbird, which was seeded 10th, finished the season 8-4.
Guida rushed for 170 of his game-high 241 yards in the second half. His 19-yard touchdown run gave Queen Creek its first lead of the game at 21-17 early in the fourth quarter. Guida carried the ball on 23 of Queen Creek’s 31 second half plays.
“He was a workhorse,” Queen Creek coach Joe Germaine said. “We kind of put it on his back and put the pressure on the offensive line to get the job done.”
Guida entered the night averaging about 13 carries a game. He carried the ball eight consecutive times during the Bulldogs’ game-clinching drive in the fourth quarter. That possession ended with a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Carson Jones that made it 28-17 with 2:13 to play.
“It was nice to get the ball so much in the second half,” Guida said. We just came out and executed our game plan better in the second half.”
As much as Guida dominated the second half, the first half belonged to Benoit. The powerful back gained 118 of his 168 yards in the first two quarters as the Chiefs took a 17-14 lead into halftime. Benoit gained 103 yards in just the first quarter on 12 carries.
“He’s a great player. He’s going to get his yards against anybody,” Germaine said. “We didn’t change our scheme at all (in the second half). We just executed a little bit better. We made plays when we had chances to.”
Thunderbird had only three possessions in the second half. The Chiefs punted from their own 46, missed a 43-yard field goal and then got the ball back in the last two minutes. After rushing for 170 yards and gaining 13 first downs in the first half, Thunderbird was held to 55 yards rushing and five first downs in the second half.
“We were just us finding the football. Being a little bit more sound,” Germaine said about his team’s second-half defensive performance.
After Guida’s second score gave the hosts a 21-17 lead with 10:36 to play, Thunderbird had a chance to regain the advantage. The Chiefs had first-and-10 at the Bulldogs’ 20 on the ensuing possession, but after two running plays lost a yard, a false start penalty set up a third-and-16 at the 26. An incomplete pass then led to a missed 43-yard field goal.
Queen Creek then used more than five minutes to go 80 yards in 11 plays, capped by Jones’ touchdown run to put the game away.
The teams traded touchdowns in the game’s first four possessions. Thunderbird held leads of 7-0 and 14-7 thanks to Darren Dorrsey running for a 2-yard score and Benoit adding a 1-yard touchdown run.
Queen Creek answered each score, first on an 18-yard pass from Jones to Colton Moore and then on a 43-yard run by Guida.
Jones finished the game 11-for-17 for 135 yards. His favorite target was Gabe Vazquez, who caught six passes for 84 yards.
“Gabe runs the best routes ever. I just throw it up to him and he comes down with it,” Jones said.
After playing in a steady downpour in the game’s final eight minutes and celebrating with their drenched fans after the game, the Bulldogs quickly shifted their attention to next week’s game against Nogales, which will be played at Campo Verde High in Gilbert.
“We have one ultimate goal of winning a state championship, and we aren’t there yet,” Guida said.
Queen Creek 28, Thunderbird 17
T – 14 3 0 0 – 17
Q – 14 0 0 14 – 28
T – Dorrsey 2 run (Wagner kick)
Q – Moore 18 pass from Jones (Ibarra kick)
T – Benoit 2 run (Wagner kick)
Q – Guida 43 run (Ibarra kick)
T – Wagner 32 FG
Q – Guida 19 run (Ibarra kick)
Q – Jones 1 run (Ibarra kick)
Rushes-yards 37-225 38-250
Passing yards 64 135
Comp-att-int 5-10-1 11-17-0
First downs 18 23
Penalties-yards 3-15 2-20
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0