PHOENIX - Empire senior wide receiver J.J. Gretta caught a 44-yard touchdown pass to pull within seven points of No. 4 Snowflake in the Division IV quarterfinals with less than one minute to play.
The 12th-seeded Ravens had the momentum on their side - as they did for most of the second half - but then Snowflake's Lane Whipple recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Lobos held on for a 21-14 win Saturday.
Empire (8-4) outscored Snowflake 14-7 in the second half but was not able to rally from a 14-0 deficit at Washington High School.
It was the team's first loss against a Division IV opponent this season.
Snowflake (10-2) fumbled away its first possession of the third quarter and Empire recovered but went three-and-out.
Then the Ravens defense stopped Snowflake near midfield and blocked the punt. Junior Michael Dobiecki recovered the ball at the Lobos 36.
Four plays later, on fourth-and-6, Empire coach Jorge Mendivil reached into his bag of tricks.
Junior quarterback Grayson Weeks took the snap and pitched it right to Gretta on an end-around and he threw to a wide-open freshman Ethan Eagerton for a 32-yard touchdown to trim Snowflake's deficit to 14-7 with 6:36 left in the third quarter.
"We gave (Snowflake) film we hoped wouldn't show that play a lot, so we were able to execute it real well," said Gretta who had five catches for 80 yards.
"Ethan stepped up and made a great catch off a bad throw; it didn't have a very good spiral but it got there."
The Lobos extended their lead to 14 points midway with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter when senior quarterback Chase Walden scored his second touchdown of the game on a 5-yard run.
Empire turned the ball over on downs but then forced Snowflake to punt with three minutes to play before Gretta caught his 12th touchdown of the season with 51 seconds left to make it 21-14.
Weeks said Empire has been a second-half team all year and thought the play went "exceptionally well" on Saturday. He finished the game with 14 completions for 209 yards. It was the third time this season he passed for more than 200 yards.
"Grayson was a little nervous in the beginning," Mendivil said. "He wasn't setting his feet and wasn't hitting the routes he normally hits. Toward the end, he started making good throws and we had the up-tempo."
Mendivil said he was proud of his team, which had six seniors, including Gretta and running back Spencer Woody, who had 88 totals yards. Woody surpassed 1,000 yards rushing on the year last week.
Friday Division II semifinals
• No. 1 Salpointe Catholic vs. No. 4 Peoria Centennial, 7 p.m. at Amphitheater High
• No. 3 Ironwood Ridge vs. No. 2 Tempe Marcos de Niza, 7 p.m. at Gilbert Campo Verde High
Saturday Division III semifinals
• No. 14 Nogales vs. No. 2 Queen Creek, 7 p.m. at Gilbert Campo Verde High