A play here, a good break there, and this one easily could have been one of those three- or four-score blowouts for either team on the field.
And yet, as the clock ticked down - inside 10 minutes to play, then five, then three - it was a pair of stout defenses that won out over two evolving offenses, with Arizona Lutheran Academy (2-0) taking a 14-13 lead into the final two minutes before pulling out a 20-13 victory over host-Valley Christian (0-2) on Friday night.
"They made plays - big plays - when they had to make them, we didn't. You know, we fumbled twice inside our 20 (yard line) going in, and we had them where we wanted with third downs and we didn't make plays," said Valley Christian coach Jeff Rutledge, the former NFL assistant trying anything he can to "change a culture" within the Trojans program and bring it back to its former state-championship winning pedigree.
"They're great kids, we love them to death ... but it's got to hurt to lose."
The nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth nature - the teams traded not only touchdowns and turnovers until Arizona Lutheran's dagger with 1:31 to play sealed it - would imply a prototypical small school run-until-you-can't-run-anymore type of outing.
Ah, not so fast. With a Haag at quarterback on one side - that's Arizona Lutheran sophomore Cameron Haag - and a Haagsma taking snaps on the other in Valley Christian senior Brandon Haagsma, the teams went to the air more than 60 times. The duo combined for five touchdown tosses in a game that lasted more than three hours.
"There were definitely times when we could have taken advantage of something, and we made a mistake, or they could have and they made a mistake but we're both young teams, both very young teams," said Arizona Lutheran coach Scott Indahl. "I'm just happy to get out of here with a win."
Haag finished 13 of 31 for 236 yards through the air, including two of his three touchdown passes to junior tight end Brady Cook to open and close the game's scoring.
Arizona Lutheran led 14-13 and had the ball inside two minutes to play inside Valley Christian territory. After the Trojans held strong on defense, it was Cook who caught a play-action pass in the flat from Haag before heading upstream 35 yards for the touchdown.
Cook scored the game's opening score, too, on an 18-yard pass from Haag, but Valley Christian matched, taking a 7-6 lead after Haagsma hit tailback Cory Kasperson from five yards out, also in the first.
Arizona Lutheran countered, with Haag hitting Gabe Galvin on a 55-yard pass play for a touchdown, before Valley Christian's Haagsma connected with TJ Widner on pretty jump-ball fade that Widner snared in mid-air amidst two defenders before stretching into the end zone.
Haagsma finished 13-35 for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
While Haag did throw three interceptions - two of them were picked off by Valley Christian's Mason Goodell, the other by Sam Feenstra - both teams also lost a pair of fumbles.
Kasperson lost one early on for Valley Christian, but made up for it with the touchdown catch and while serving as the feature back in the second half. He finished with 70 yards on 11 carries, while teammate Ty Corbin had 15 carries for 50 yards.
Arizona Lutheran 20, Valley Christian 13
First Downs: ALA 21, VC 14
Rushing: ALA 43-180, 33-114
Passing (Comp.-Att.-Yards-TD-INT): ALA 13-31-236-3-2, VC 13-35-170-2-0
Fumbles-lost: ALA 3-2, VC 3-2
Penalties-yards: ALA 5-33, VC 9-90
Arizona Lutheran 6 8 0 6 -- 20
Valley Christian 7 0 6 0 -- 13
ALA: Haag 18 pass to Cook (two-point conversion failed)
VC: Haagsma 5 pass to Kaspersen (Izquierdo kick)
ALA: Haag 55 pass to Galvin (two-point conversion good)
VC: Haagsma 17 pass to Widner (kick failed)
ALA: Haag 35 pass to Cook (two-point conversion failed)