Paradise Valley didn’t wait long to announce its presence as a contender for the 2012 Division III crown.
The host Trojans shocked top-ranked Saguaro, 32-29, when Paradise Valley quarterback Ryan Finley connected on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Joey Gatewood with one second remaining in the game.
“It wasn’t going to be easy,” said Finley, who completed 23-of-40 passes for 351 yards. “Saguaro is a really great team, they have won four of the last five state championships. They weren’t just going to lay down for us.”
The magical Paradise Valley (1-0) finish shocked Saguaro (0-1), the reigning state champions, as moments earlier the Sabercats had capped a 21-point furious fourth quarter rally when quarterback Luke Rubenzer found Brett Adams for a 38-yard TD pass to grab a 29-25 lead.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Paradise Valley, they played a hell of a game,” first-year Saguaro head coach Jason Mohns said. “They wanted it more than we did. We made way too many mistakes.”
Finley, who has committed to play football at Boise State, led the game-winning drive in just 1:04 that started at the Paradise Valley 43. The senior completed two passes and also forced the Saguaro defense to commit holding and pass interference penalties that moved the Trojans to the Saguaro 18.
“The only people that believed were our kids and coaches in the locker room that we had a chance to upset them,” Paradise Valley coach Donnie Yantis said.
“I believed we would go down and score. That something that we practice every day, to us it is like second nature.”
The Saguaro defense stiffened and forced three straight incomplete passes but when ninth-ranked Paradise Valley needed it most Finley delivered to the corner of the end zone for his fourth TD pass.
“That kid is a stud,” Mohns said. “We knew he was going to sling it. That touchdown pass he put it in the only possible spot it could be.”
Saguaro had one last gasp on the game’s final kick return but a holding penalty would have negated the return as Paradise Valley made the final tackle at its own 10 yard line.
Mistakes were the theme of the night for Saguaro as the Sabercats held an 8-7 halftime lead but a fumble and interception in the red zone, coupled with a holding call on an 80-yard Gena Adams TD run, proved too costly to overcome.
“We didn’t do enough things to win the game,” Mohns said.
Finley had many targets as he completed a 21-yard first half TD pass to Jordan Brown. Finley added two more passing TDs of 49 and 36 yards to Carl Westlund in the third quarter to push the Trojans' lead to 22-8.
Rubenzer scored on a 1-yard TD run and added a 27-yard score in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 25-22 with 4:17 remaining.
Rubenzer completed 9-of-18 passes for 200 yards and an interception while rushing 21 times for 153 yards.