Phoenix North Canyon and Paradise Valley are separated by less than four miles, yet the two neighboring schools haven’t played one another since 2006.
On Friday, the two teams had no trouble making up for lost time.
On the second play from scrimmage, North Canyon senior linebacker Onuche Okwoli picked off a Daniel Bridge-Gadd pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, setting the stage for an all-out track meet.
But five lead changes, 114 points, two interceptions returned for touchdowns, one blocked punt returned for a touchdown, and one kickoff returned for a touchdown later, it was Bridge-Gadd who had the final laugh. The sophomore quarterback’s final touchdown pass of the night handed the Trojans (2-0) a wild 59-55 victory over North Canyon.
“That was a crazy, crazy game,” said Bridge-Gadd, who finished 32-of-45 with a career-high 406 yards passing in his second start. “There were some tough plays in the game, but we just continued to battle back. A lot of that credit belongs with my teammates. Even on the interceptions, they continued to believe in me. In the end, we found a way to win.”
Humble as he may be, it was Bridge-Gadd’s composure that proved to be a difference.
The sophomore’s second INT of the night early in the fourth quarter was once again returned by Okwoli for a 55-yard, go-ahead touchdown, but the Trojans quarterback never allowed himself or his team to get flustered.
On Paradise Valley’s next play from scrimmage following the turnover, Bridge-Gadd found senior wideout Jordan Brown on a beautiful eight-yard "out" route. Okwoli attempted to jump the route for a third interception, but to no avail. Brown got by him and the entire North Canyon (0-2) secondary for a 57-yard touchdown to put the Trojans up for good, 52-48.
“He’s got some character,” Paradise Valley coach Donnie Yantis said of Bridge-Gadd. “He’s a puppy, but games like this will help him grow up. Right after the second pick, I went right back to him. I wanted to let him help us win the game to show him we have confidence in him. He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s going to be a great quarterback.”
To be a great quarterback, sometimes you have to win games that don’t go according to plan. The first-year starter learned that lesson ten-fold, albeit in a win.
“Everything that could go wrong at times did for us, but it’s a rivalry game,” said Yantis. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve been down the last couple of years, I knew that as a rival school they’d come to play. And they certainly did.
“It was a great game for these players to grow in and a great game for coaches to coach in. I’m 42, but after this one I feel like I’m 50.”
If Yantis feels 50, imagine how North Canyon’s first-year coach Cornelius Bowick must feel.
Following a three-overtime loss in Week 1 to Goodyear Millenium, his squad, especially seniors Okwoli (scored five total touchdowns, including three non-offensive scores) and Bryant O’Georgia (caught two touchdowns from 33 and 74 yards out respectively), did everything they could to give him the elusive first win. But in the end, they simply ran out of steam in this 48-minute scoring relay.
“I feel like we didn’t play to our potential,” said Bowick. “We made a lot of mental mistakes, missed a lot of tackles and made the game harder on ourselves. They’re were positives, but when you get to the point where you’re giving them things instead of making them earn it, this is what happens.”
Paradise Valley 59, North Canyon 55
First Downs: PV 33, NC 13
Rushing: PV 41-156, NC 21-156
Passing (Comp.-Att.-Yards-TD-INT): PV 32-45-406-2-2, NC 7-14-114-2-0
Fumbles-lost: PV 1-0, C 1-1
Penalties-yards: PV 5-18, NC 3-35
North Canyon 7 21 13 14 - 55
Paradise Valley 14 17 14 14 - 59
NC: Onuche Okwoli 100 interception return (Flower kick)
PV: Thompson 3 run (Keller kick)
PV: Westlund 2 run (Keller kick)
PV: Keller 27 kick
NC: John Okwoli 90 kickoff (Flower kick)
PV: Thompson 1 run (Keller kick)
NC: O’Georgia 33 pass from Molzohn (Flower kick)
PV: Compestine 6 pass from Bridge-Gadd (Keller kick)
NC: Onuche Okwoli 3 run (Flower kick)
PV: Jordan Brown 10 catch from Bridge-Gadd (Keller kick)
NC: Onuche Okwoli 58 run
NC: Onuche Okwoli 22 punt block (Flower kick)
PV: Jacob Brown 11 run (Keller kick)
NC: Onuche Okwoli 55 interception (Flower kick)
PV: Jordan Brown 57 pass from Bridge-Gadd (Keller kick)
PV: Westlund 11 run (Keller kick)
NC: O’Georgia 74 pass from Molzohn (Flower kick)