No. 7 Campo Verde survived a scare from No. 10 Tucson Sahuaro in the first round of the Division II playoffs on Friday night, a 34-21 Coyotes' victory in a game much closer than the final score might indicate.
The Coyotes (9-2) trailed 7-0 after one quarter as their offense could not get anything going against an aggressive Sahuaro (8-3) defense. The Coyotes' defense, however, was just as good as their counterparts, as Campo Verde forced the Cougars into multiple three-and-out drives in the first quarter.
With just over four minutes remaining in the opening frame Sahuaro caught a break when Erick Belcher fumbled a punt return and it was recovered at the Campo 17-yard line by Aaron Budd. On the next play, Sahuaro's Cole Sterns got open in the corner of the end zone and caught his first of two touchdown receptions on the night.
Belcher more than made up for his turnover. Belcher caught a 20-yard touchdown reception from Luke Pineda in the second quarter which tied the game. A couple of series later, Belcher intercepted a Laramie Brown pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown which gave the Coyotes a 14-7 lead.
“On a third down play before, they ran a play for (Sterns) on an 'out' route and this time I wasn’t gonna let them run it again so I jumped it.” Belcher said.
After each team turned the ball over once in the first half, both defenses forced more in the second half. With the game tied at 14-14 to begin the third quarter, Sahuaro marched down to the Campo Verde goal line. On third-and-goal the Cougars fumbled on the 1-yard line and it was recovered by Daniel Fagbuyi for Campo Verde.
The Coyotes followed with two unsuccessful runs in an attempt to get out of the shadow of their own goal line, but on third-and-9, Pineda made a huge play as he punted the ball to an unsuspecting Sahuaro defense. The punt rolled all the way down to the Cougars' 48-yard line. The play helped Campo get the field position battle back on their side. With 1:08 remaining in the third quarter the Coyotes re-took the lead 21-14 on a 20-yard touchdown run by Zac Wheeler.
Sahuaro, however, again had an answer. On the following drive, Sterns hauled in a 72-yard touchdown reception to tie the game 21-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Finally Campo Verde received a rare chance for good starting field position on a drive that started from the Sahuaro 42-yard line. That shorter distance was all it needed.
On second-and-10, Pineda threw his second touchdown pass of the night to a wide open Jordan Fickas at the 5-yard line. Fickas walked into the end zone for a 28-21 Coyotes lead with 7:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Campo added a 36-yard touchdown run on a reverse by Alex Madrid with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter for the final margin of victory.
“It was a team effort. We came out a little flat, but our team just bonded and we got everything fixed at halftime. We just came out and never gave up and played to the last whistle. It is a great feeling to advance to the second round.” Pineda said.
The Coyotes will go back to Mesquite in the quarterfinals next Friday, site of a 30-0 loss for Campo on Nov. 1.
“That’s what we wanted; we wanted another shot at them at their place. We are going to get it and we are excited about it.” Campo coach Max Ragsdale said.
Campo Verde 34, Sahuaro 21
First Downs: CV 11, Sahuaro 13
Rushing: CV 28-155, Sahuaro 35-89
Passing (comp.-att.-yards-TD-INT): CV 9-23-114-2-2, Sahuaro 17-29-237-3-2
Fumbles-lost: CV 1-1, Sahuaro 3-3
Penalties-yards: CV 8-65, Sahuaro 9-75
Sahuaro 7 7 0 7 -- 21
Campo Verde 0 14 7 13 -- 34
Sahuaro: Sterns 17 pass from Brown (Fontinos kick)
CV: Belcher 20 pass from Pineda (Wells kick)
CV: Belcher 42 INT return (Wells kick)
Sahuaro: Hall 12 pass from Brown (Fontinos kick)
CV: Wheeler 20 run (Wells kick)
Sahuaro: Sterns 72 pass from Brown (Fontinos kick)
CV: Fickas 42 pass from Pineda (Wells kick)
CV: Madrid 36 run (Wells kick)