Gilbert Campo Verde was just a half minute and one punt away from completing an impressive comeback when a bad snap and an even worse roll gave the opposing Maricopa Rams a 21-20 victory on Friday night in Gilbert.
After taking a 20-14 lead with under a minute left in the fourth, Coyotes' (2-2, 2-2 in Division III) defensive back Darius Williams intercepted a desperate pass by Maricopa (2-2, 2-1) quarterback Caleb Buck that appeared to seal the game for Campo Verde. Three short rushing plays and three ensuing Maricopa timeouts later, Campo Verde was set to punt the ball away and give the Rams one last shot at the unlikely with approximately 30 seconds left in the game inside its own 25-yard line.
But the snap to Campo Verde punter Austin Wells was errant, and he was forced to scramble for the ball as several Maricopa defenders pursued him and a potential miraculous touchdown. The play ended with 26 seconds left and with Maricopa in possession at the Coyotes' 2-yard-line.
The Rams pounced on the improbable opportunity, as running back Kentrell Coleman scored on an emphatic plunge and kicker Conner Staehs drove the extra point home to give the Rams the lead.
Campo Verde had one final chance to end the night with a win, but quarterback Luke Pineda's long pass with less than 10 seconds left found its way into Maricopa linebacker Chauncey Hayslip's hands and the Rams were able to sneak back to Pinal County with a win.
“Little things; little things set you back like a punt snap,” said Campo Verde head coach Max Ragsdale.
The ending spoiled what would've been a solid turnaround for a Coyotes team that found itself down 14-0 entering halftime, as the Rams' defense cramped the Campo Verde run game and the Maricopa offense was effective enough to find the end zone twice – first on a four-yard touchdown pass from Buck to wide receiver Kendric Garcia and the second on a one-yard touchdown run by Coleman.
Things turned around quickly for Campo Verde once the second half began and as the Coyotes' offense discovered a little rhythm. Pineda and the halfback tandem of Gabe Ogbonnaya and Luke Sanchez found room to run on the ground and the Rams' defense committed enough penalties to ensure the Coyotes kept moving the ball forward.
Also aiding the Campo Verde offense were a number of clutch third- and fourth-down plays that kept drives alive, most notably a 33-yard pass from Pineda to receiver Deonte Edge on a fourth-and-six play with under a minute left that put the Coyotes on the Rams' 1-yard-line. Sanchez punched it into the end zone on the next play to give Campo the temporary six-point lead.
As the offense gained momentum, the defense snuffed the life out of the Maricopa passing and rushing attacks throughout the course of the second half. Buck found himself either on the ground or impeccably close to meeting it for much of the final 24 minutes, which was one of the main reasons the Rams' offense did not record a single first down in the second half after gaining eight in the first two quarters.
But the proverbial chink in the Coyotes' armor came in the form of special teams play, as Wells missed two extra-point attempts, a 29-yard field goal with five-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth that would have broken what was then a tie game, and was on the receiving end of the botched snap that erased the Coyotes' win.
Pineda had an up-and-down night for Campo Verde, as he completed 10 of his 26 pass attempts for 155 yards, a touchdown and the interception and ran the ball 10 times for 29 yards and a touchdown. Sanchez, who had the other touchdown, had 11 yards on nine carries and Ogbonnaya had 39 yards on 14 carries.
For Maricopa, Buck passed the ball 13 times and completed eight passes for 53 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Garcia and tight end Franshua Avila led the Rams with 17 and 26 receiving yards, respectively, and Coleman gained 37 yards on 16 carries and had two short touchdowns.
“We'll take it … if it has to be like that, we'll take it,” Rams head coach Cory Nenaber said. “We're going to savor this one tonight.”
Score by quarter:
Maricopa: 0 14 0 7 – 21
Campo Verde: 0 0 6 14 – 20
First downs: Maricopa 8, Campo Verde 11
Rushes-yards: Maricopa 28-77, Campo Verde 38-108
Passing yards: Maricopa 53, Campo Verde 195
Comp-Att-Int: Maricopa 8-13-2, Campo Verde 11-27-1
Fumbles-lost: Maricopa 3-1, Campo Verde 2-1
Penalties-yards: Maricopa 10-97, Campo Verde 8-90
M – Garcia two-yard pass from Buck (Staehs kick)
M – Coleman one-yard run (Staehs kick)
CV – Pineda two-yard run (kick failed)
CV – Fickas 20-yard pass from Pineda (2-pt. Conversion to Deonte Edge from Pineda)
CV – Sanchez one-yard run (kick failed)
M – Coleman two-yard run (Staehs kick)