Queen Creek scored 28 unanswered points to beat No. 13 Cactus, 38-10, and advance to the quarterfinals of the Division III football playoffs.
The No. 4 Bulldogs will host undefeated and fifth-seed Peoria next Friday night.
It was a tale of two halves as the Bulldogs broke open a 10-10 halftime tie thanks to aggressive defense and a steady ground game. Queen Creek intercepted Cactus’ Preston Guerra three times in the second half, one of which Layne Roshay returned 50 yards to give the Bulldogs great field position.
Coach Travis Schureman praised his defense’s play, especially as the offense struggled in the first half.
“(Our offense) pretty much gave them those ten points tonight,” Schureman said. “We flew around and played great defense.”
Cactus coach Larry Fetkenhier pointed to the second-half turnovers as the reason for his team’s defeat.
“They’re a good team and they pounded us after they got those turnovers,” he said after addressing his team.
The first half was sloppy for both teams, and started with a series of strange plays. Queen Creek muffed the opening kickoff and recovered the ball at its own 6-yard line. On the ensuing third down, quarterback Bryce Dobbs threw a pass into the outstretched arms of Cactus' linebacker Kade Gilliss, who returned the ball five yards for a touchdown.
Schureman thought nerves could have contributed to the slow start.
“It’s a big game. It’s some of these kids first playoff game, but give credit to Cactus,” he said. “They came out and did some good things and were attacking the ball early on.”
Offensively, Weston Barlow had a big game, rushing for 133 yards and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs. It could have been more, but Barlow lost two fumbles in Cactus' territory, and despite the early blunder, Dobbs finished the game with eight completions on his 12 passes, often gashing the Cobras defense with big gains.
“(Dobbs) stepped up and had a great game tonight,” Schureman said of his starting quarterback. “He doesn’t get a lot of recognition because we run the ball a lot, but he’s effective and moves the ball for us.”
Cactus finished 6-5, but Fetkenhier was left disappointed his team didn’t perform better in the second half.
“When you don’t execute against good teams you lose, but I’m proud of how they battled,” Fetkenhier said.
Queen Creek 38, Cactus 10
First Downs: Cactus 15, Queen Creek 13
Rushing: Cactus 40-132, Queen Creek 38-177
Passing (comp.-att.-YDS-TD-INT): Cactus 11-23-57-0-3, Queen Creek 8-12-165-0-1
Fumbles-lost: Cactus 2-1, Queen Creek 4-2
Penalties-yards: Cactus 1-15, Queen Creek 4-35
Cactus 7 3 0 0 -- 10
Queen Creek 3 7 14 14 -- 38
Cactus: Gillis 5 INT return (Buze kick)
Queen Creek: Paulsen 22 FG
Queen Creek: Barlow 12 run (Paulsen kick)
Cactus: Buze 22 FG
Queen Creek: Barlow 13 run (Paulsen kick)
Queen Creek: Guida 1 run (Paulsen kick)
Queen Creek: Lemley 1 run (Paulsen kick)
Queen Creek: Barlow 5 run (Paulsen kick)