As long as Tempe Prep took care of the football, the third-seeded Knights would have success. For much of Saturday afternoon Tempe Prep looked stronger than No. 6 Thatcher in their Division V state quarterfinal game at Higley High School.
But four first-half turnovers kept the Knights from taking control.
Once Tempe Prep (10-2) regained momentum – and did not fumble again – the Knights pulled out a 26-14 victory on Saturday that puts them into the semifinals next Saturday at 3 p.m. against No. 2 Morenci (12-0) at Arcadia H.S. Morenci was a 54-21 winner over Phoenix Arizona Lutheran Academy on Saturday.
“We hang our hat on our ability to take care of the football, ball security,” Tempe Prep coach Thomas Brittain said. “And we had four fumbles in the first half which is very uncharacteristic. We were dominant on the ground but killing ourselves with turnovers. So the challenge to this team was to take care of the football and we would be okay.”
When Thatcher opened the third quarter with an impressive 73-yard, five-minute drive to take the lead, the doubts surfaced. But Levi Hartzler ran for 146 yards on 25 carries in a ball control second half for Tempe Prep.
“When you let a team score on you finally, momentum means the world,” Brittain said. “So we had to fight to get confidence. They took the lead but we stuck with the running game and pulled it out in the end.”
“He’s been our horse and he’s carried us."
Hartzler took the blame and gave credit to the offensive line.
“I knew our line was dominant, I made a lot of personal mistakes, I let the team down,” referring to his two first-half fumbles. “I knew all we had to do was hold on to the ball and we would pull it out, just run it all night.”
The Knights’ other running back, Ahmari Underwood ran for another 82 yards on 14 carries with quarterback Anthony Brittain not having to go to the air.
Tempe Prep had been here before.
Two years ago, in the Class 2A quarterfinals, as a No. 6 seed, Tempe Prep had a 16-0 lead on Thatcher early before losing 20-16.
They had no intention of letting that happen again.
The Knights stopped Thatcher on its first possession of the fourth quarter and got the ball on its own 35 with 9:42 left. Switching off between Hartzler and Underwood, the Knights marched 65 yards over four minutes, capped by quarterback Anthony Brittain’s 8-yard run on fourth-and-1 to take the lead.
Thatcher had a last gasp but Andrew Otting-Crandall sacked Thatcher quarterback Presley Motes on a second-and-10 play, and defensive lineman Edward LeBeau all but ended the game on fourth-and-20 play with 2:56 remaining.
“It was just, it was about time to get a sack,” LeBeau said. “Just take care of it and get it done.”
LeBeau’s four-year teammate Hartzler added a late score as Tempe Prep ran out the clock.
“We just stuck with our defense,” LeBeau said. “The only thing that gave them momentum was the fumbles. We gave them the ball and we let them believe. It’s amazing what a boy can do when he believes.”
Tempe Prep 26, Thatcher 14
Thatcher 0 7 7 0 – 14
Tempe Prep 7 6 0 13 – 26
TP-Hartzler 7 run (Wiese kick)
TP-Brittain 1 run (kick failed)
T-Bagnall 6 pass from P. Motes (P. Motes kick)
T-Bryce 11 pass from P. Motes (P. Motes kick)
TP-Brittain 8 run (run failed)
TP-Hartzler 16 run (Wiese kick)
First Downs: Thatcher 9, Tempe Prep 15
Rushes-yards: Thatcher 28-30, Tempe Prep 48-265
Passing yards: Thacher 125, Tempe Prep 7
Passes: Thatcher 15-26-0, Tempe Prep 1-5-0
Fumbles-Lost: Thatcher 3-2, Tempe Prep 5-4
Penalties-yards: Thatcher 2-10, Tempe Prep 3-40