Whatever lucky charm Campo Verde pulled out to survive two monster mistakes in the final minutes of its game against Highland wore off at exactly the wrong time, providing the visiting Hawks one more chance to escape with a 27-24 victory on Friday night.
After squaring things up at 24 with about four minutes left to go, Highland (3-2) kicked off to Campo Verde (4-1) returner Alex Madrid, who returned the ball to the Hawks' Chris Brewster on an airborne fumble right at the Coyotes' 32 yard line.
Highland pushed the ball to the Coyotes' four while bleeding the clock that would have left Campo Verde just a bit more than a minute left to score if the Hawks hit the field goal. But kicker Noah Miller's attempt doinked off the left post, giving Campo Verde that minute to take a crack at a victorious ending.
Missing quarterback Luke Pineda, who left the game earlier in the quarter with concussion-like symptoms, Campo Verde put the home crowd's hearts on notice by almost fumbling the ball away on second down – a mistake cost that still cost the Coyotes 16 yards.
It takes a heaps of providence for a team to ride out two such mistakes late in a game, but the balance of luck more often than not evens out at the end. That proved to be the case this time, as the good fortune immediately went to Highland when Hawks' defensive end Grant Gale recovered Coyotes' backup quarterback Brandon Turner's lost fumble at the Campo Verde 13 yard line with 56 seconds to go. Forty seconds and a few forward-moving plays later, Miller drilled his second attempt, a 21-yard game-winning field goal to give Highland a strange but vital win.
“[It's] a weird game; sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn't. Tonight, it went our way,” said Highland coach Pete Wahlheim.
Getting to the point of redemption required Highland to overcome a quick 14-0 deficit that arrived when Pineda connected with Jordan Fickas and Madrid for touchdown passes in the first quarter. The Hawks responded in the second with tighter defense and touchdown runs by Gale, who made his a 34-yarder, and Ryan McCord about seven minutes apart, although they fell behind once again after Campo Verde kicker Austin Wells huffed and puffed a 42-yard field goal attempt through the uprights.
Highland struck back in the third with a 25-yard field goal by Miller, but once again found itself behind thanks to a one-yard touchdown run by Campo Verde's Lorenzo Sanchez eight seconds into the final quarter.
It took a little while, but Highland found a way to balance out the score one last time when wide receiver Jake Brown used all of his 76 inches of height to haul in Blake Young's 21-yard pass in the end zone. The final four minutes of shenanigans that all occurred within Campo Verde's territory ensued from there.
“We really needed this win; we didn't want this to ruin our season,” Brewster said.
The reason a loss could have dinged Highland's season was the stature of opposing Campo Verde, which is a division down from the Hawks. Conversely, while a win would have greatly benefited Campo Verde, coach Max Ragsdale – who said the Coyotes “shot ourselves in the foot” at the end – added just playing Highland should benefit his team as it inches toward the end of the season and into postseason play.
“It's a great game because it's going to prepare us for teams like Marcos de Niza and Mesquite,” he said.
The one issue could stem from the status of Pineda, the player Ragsdale said “is the engine that makes our machine go.” While the quarterback did miss most of the fourth quarter, Ragsdale said Pineda was kept out for precautionary reasons and expects him back for next week's game against Marcos.
Highland 27, Campo Verde 24
Highland 0 14 3 10 -- 27
Campo Verde 14 3 0 7 – 24
First Downs: Highland 10, Campo Verde 10
Rushing: Highland 39-167, Campo Verde 32-112
Passing (Comp.-Att.-TD-INT): Highland 7-13-61-1-1, Campo Verde 13-14-145-2-0
Fumbles-lost: Highland 0-0, Campo Verde 3-2
Penalties-yards: Highland 2-20, Campo Verde 4-40
Campo Verde – Jordan Fickas 32-yard reception from Luke Pineda (Austin Wells kick)
Campo Verde – Alex Madrid 8-yard reception from Pineda (Wells kick)
Highland – Grant Gale 34-yard run (Noah Miller kick)
Highland – Ryan McCord 1-yard run (Miller kick)
Campo Verde – Wells 42-yard field goal
Highlan – Miller 25-yard field goal
Campo Verde – Lorenzo Sanchez 1-yard run (Wells kick)
Highland – Jake Brown 21-yard reception from Blake Young (Miller kick)
Highland – Miller 21-yard field goal
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