QUEEN CREEK — The expected tight quarterfinal between the #4 and #5 ranked teams in 5A lasted about 15 minutes of game time.
Then the host Casteel Colts hit the afterburners and a surprisingly one-sided rout was on.
Tied at 14 early in the second quarter, #4 Casteel blitzed #5 Millennium with four straight touchdowns before the half. The Colts did not let off the gas in a 73-28 blowout.
"Offense, defense and special teams came together for us for the most part tonight. We had a couple turnovers in the first half that we were able to bounce back from. I'm really excited about our coaches and players and how they were able to focus throughtout the game," Casteel coach Bobby Newcombe said.
Junior quarterback Dane Christensen opened the floodgates with a deep strike to junior Dominic Digian.
Digian connected with senior receiver Collin Gapen on a flea-flicker touchdown. Christensen added two rushing touchdowns in the final two minutes of the half.
"We executed all game long, receivers catching passes, running backs ran hard and linemen did their thing. We were clicking at all levels," Christensen said.
Down 45-14 early in the third, Millennium (9-3) regrouped. Senior quarterback Jalan Early connected with senior receiver/cornerback Treydan Stukes for their second and third touchdown passes.
It turned out to be Jalan Early's final high school game playing for his father, head coach Lamar Early. The family arrived at Millennium from Estrella Foothills in May 2017 after Lamar Early was named the Tigers' head coach.
"It's emotional to watch him," Lamar Early said.
Senior linebacker Wyatt Reidhead stopped any thought of a Millennium rally by picking off Early and running it back for a touchdown with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Christiensen tossed his third touchdown — to senior Grady Burns. He also finished the night with three rushing touchdowns and finished 22-28 passing for 223 yards.
"Dane needs to be front and center. He needs to be front and center when they talk about quarterbacks in Arizona — I would say in the West Coast," Newcombe said. "He does a lot of things great and one thing that people need to understand is he is one of the best leaders that a football team could ask for. He's vocal, tough, aggressive, available strong-willed and responsible. That's all the things you want in a quarterback," Newcombe said.
Casteel (9-3) and its quarterback are peaking in the playoffs and looking forward to a rematch with top seed Gilbert Williams Field (10-2). The Black Hawks knocked off the Colts 42-27 in Queen Creek on Sept. 27.
These teams square off again at 7 p.m. Nov. 22 at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.
"We're excited to play a very good Williams Field team we lost to earlier in the year, but we're confident in our progress since that game and confident to take them on next week," Christensen said.
Early's program ends its initial run as a large group of seniors that helped him turn Millennium football around will graduate in May.
Early's firt season as coach — after a short offseason — was the Tigers' fourth straight without a playoff appearance. In two years with full prep time, Millennium sports two 9-3 seasons and a pair of quarterfinal appearances.
"We started with the seniors and their buy in. Those boys as sophomores turned this program around. Twenty-three of those guys played for me as sophomores, and now we're graduating 35," Lamar Early said. "It's not the way we wanted. But those guys have taught me some things over the years."