Buoyed by strong efforts by its defensive and special teams units, Glendale Cactus earned its way to next Saturday's Division III championship by defeating Arcadia, 37-0, on Saturday night.
Cactus will face Saguaro for the state championship at Northern Arizona University's Walkup Skydome on Nov. 26.
Racing to a 14-point lead early on, the Cobras (11-1) took over the game with the first two plays of the second half, starting with a 90-yard kickoff return by senior Levi Jiles to open the second half, Jiles second total touchdown of the night.
That was followed by Chris Jennings later in the third quarter. Jennings' interception was one of three the Cobras nabbed from Titans' quarterback Cole Richardson, who was sacked five times and harassed repeatedly throughout the evening.
"We aren't great looking on defense, but we can run and we can get after them," Cactus coach Larry Fetkenheir said.
The Cobras' defense held Arcadia's offense to one first down in the second half, which came with less than 45 seconds left in the contest. Cactus also slowed down Titans' star running back Sosaia Maafu, who came into the game with more than 1,700 yards and 29 carries on the season, but could only muster 41 yards on 15 carries.
"They're a very good defensive team," said Arcadia head coach Jim Ellison, "They obviously schemed him very well."
The Cobras' defense and special teams helped cover for an offense that had success moving the ball forward but had repeated difficulties keeping drives alive, as Cactus converted just two of its 10 third-down attempts.
Some of the issues came from Arcadia's ability to hold Putko and running back Josh Aguirre to 56 and 76 yards rushing, respectively, which is well below their season averages. Also plaguing Cactus were penalties.
"I think we could have done a lot better if we had taken away a lot of those penalties," Fetkenheir said.
Putko threw for 99 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 56 yards and another score. Josh Aguirre had eight carries for 76 yards to lead Cactus' rushing attack, while Jacob Schaefer had 48 yards receiving and a touchdown.
While the Cobras advance to the championship, the game marked the end of an Arcadia season that featured 10 wins and a one-point quarterfinal upset against No.-2 seeded Peoria Liberty last week.
Despite the loss, which Ellison said stemmed, in part, from the increased pressure the Titans' faced this week, he lauded the team for how the team played this year and how far it went this postseason.
"I think we had a great season," Ellison said, adding it was a "phenomenal" year.