West Valley Preps
PEORIA — Things were a little too “sloppy” for Sunrise Mountain Head Coach Steve Decker’s liking on Homecoming Night.
The field conditions were rough and for the better part of the game, so was the Mustangs’ overall play.
But when Sunrise needed it the most, the Mustang defense responded with three huge fourth-quarter stops to preserve a narrow 20-19 victory over Buckeye Verrado at Mustang Field.
“It was ugly — we didn’t play very well,” Decker admitted. “I think Homecoming had an effect. Keegan (Freid) didn’t play a good game and I didn’t call a good game. That about sums it up.”
Plagued by penalties all night, Sunrise Mountain (3-2) called on its defense to secure the victory in the final non-region game of 2018.
With the Mustangs up 20-13 late in the game, Verrado running back Lateef Hampton hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Titan Widjaja to cut the margin to 20-19 with 4:03 left. Verrado coach Tom Ward rolled the dice and decided to go for 2 and possibly the win.
But after gashing the Mustangs’ rushing defense for almost the entire second half, Verrado (1-4) was denied as two-way standout Jay Anderson and the SMHS defense stuffed Hampton short of the goal line to hang on to the one-point lead.
“The defense did a great job late — Jay (Anderson) played on both sides of the ball with a ton of heart tonight,” Decker said. “We have been struggling on D so it was great to see them step up and make some plays. But we still have plenty to work on.”
The Vipers continued the momentum by recovering an onside kick on the next play. But again the Mustang D answered the call, allowing just a yard on three plays before senior defensive back and team captain Coltin Church sacked Widjaja on fourth down.
“We needed to take it in our own hands to get a stop,” Church said after the game. “We had let them get to 19 points and we weren’t going to let them score again.”
The Sunrise Mountain offense could not run out the clock and punted with under a minute to go. The Vipers’ last shot at a comeback fizzled when wide-open receiver Cody Miller let a fourth-down pass that would’ve moved the chains near midfield slip through his fingers.
“A win is a win,” said a smiling Decker.
In the first half, Verrado took the opening drive of the game inside the Sunrise 30. Widjaja called his own number on a scramble play but had his bell rung and came up woozy on the play. He left the game and his replacement, Dillon Hanson, tossed a ball up for grabs that was picked off by the Mustangs’ Alex Gianoli.
Neither offense could find any rhythm as they exchanged punts.
Sunrise Mountain got things going late in the first quarter. Starting at their own 38, Freid handed off to Bryce Cord on three of four snaps to get the ball into Verrado territory. A Freid 27-yard pass to Kyle Copley got the Mustangs into the red zone. On third down, Anderson came up with the first of several highlight reel plays, diving full out to snag Fried’s laser pass over the middle.
Two plays later, Cord zipped into the end zone from a yard away. Freshman Easton Black boomed the PAT straight and true to give Sunrise Mountain a 7-0 lead with 1:10 left in the first.
Following a Vipers punt on the next series, Freid and Anderson went back to work. Facing 3rd-and-26 at the Verrado 44, Freid dumped a short pass over the middle to Anderson who outran seemingly the entire Vipers defense to paydirt down the right sideline. Black’s PAT made it 14-0 early in the second quarter.
On the ensuing Vipers’ possession, Verrado’s running game got untracked. Hampton and Logan Gingg took turns breaking off big chunks of yardage, culminating in Gingg plowing in for a 4-yard TD. The successful kick cut the Sunrise lead to 14-7.
Sunrise then drove inside Verrado’s 20 but Freid was intercepted by Mateo Alicea in the end zone to conclude the drive.
Special teams and Church then made a huge impact as Verrado prepared to punt from midfield. Church flew in and tackled Vipers punter Kobe Smith at the Verrado 37 yard line with under a minute before halftime.
Decker, calling offensive plays, then reached into his bag of tricks and came up golden.
Freid pitched the ball to Anderson who appeared to be running a jet sweep. Instead, Anderson pulled up and fired the ball downfield to Copley, standing alone around the Verrado 10 yard line. Copley hauled in the pass and easily dashed into the end zone for a 37-yard score with 20 seconds left before the break. The PAT was wide left but the Mustangs still led 20-7 at halftime.
“The cornerback bit up hard on that fake,” Anderson, a senior captain, explained. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overthrow him.”
Penalties and inconsistent play haunted the Mustangs as the second half began and Verrado took advantage. Miller made a phenomenal catch on a 20-yard pass from Widjaja to find the end zone at the 8:13 mark of the third. The PAT was missed — a point that the Vipers would badly need later.
The Sunrise offense, which scored 74 points in a shootout with Gilbert last week, continued to misfire.
Late in the third quarter, Decker pulled his visibly frustrated senior star quarterback for a couple series as sophomore Cailin Knapp stepped in under center.
“Keegan wasn’t going through his reads,” Decker explained. “I think the night kind of got to him. He was named Homecoming king and all that and he just wasn’t mentally there at that time.”
The Mustangs’ offense was shut out in the second half but the defense stood tall in the fourth quarter to pull off the one-point Homecoming triumph. Anderson was the player of the game, hauling in a 44-yard score and tossing a 37-yard strike. He also led the charge to stop Hampton on the Verrado 2-point attempt.
Copley caught one TD while Freid threw one touchdown pass and had one picked off. Cord added one rushing score of his own.
Sunrise Mountain begins 5A Northwest Region play next Friday with a 7 p.m. game at Ironwood. Verrado will travel to Agua Fria to begin Desert West region play next Friday.
“A couple weeks ago, people said we played great but we took the L,” Decker said. “Tonight, we didn’t play that great but we will definitely take the W and be happy about it.”
SUNRISE MOUNTAIN 20 VERRADO 19
SCORE BY QUARTERS
SM – Bryce Cord 1 run (Easton Black kick)
SM – Jay Anderson 44 pass from Keegan Freid (Black kick)
V – Logan Gingg 4 run (Cross Mendiola kick)
SM – Kyle Copley 37 pass from Anderson (kick failed)
V – Cody Miller 20 pass from Titan Widjaja (kick failed)
V – Lateef Hampton 19 pass from Widjaja (2-point conversion failed)