Pusch Ridge Christian entered Saturday’s Class 3A state semifinal matchup with Benjamin Franklin as the favorite to win and advance to next week’s title game.
The No. 1-seeded Lions then lived up to the hype in a 47-7 blowout victory at Salpointe Catholic High School. The win sets up a showdown with undefeated and No. 3-seeded Queen Creek Casteel in next week’s title game. The teams will play at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.
Pusch Ridge’s Mitch Maas returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. Tamerat Mcleod scored on a 27-yard run on the Lions’ next possession and Maas would score one more time to round out the first quarter on a 19-yard scamper.
“I wasn’t sure if I should pick it up, but I saw there was a clear path and our guys made great blocks and I new we had to punch first and that’s what we did,” Maas said of the kickoff return.
Franklin slowed down the Lions (13-0) in the second quarter and changed its offensive strategy, adopting a spread passing attack. It worked for the most part until the Chargers landed inside Pusch Ridge’s 5-yard line. That’s when the Lions defense stiffened and prevented Ben Franklin, which went back to its bunch formation, from getting into the end zone.
“At this point of the season, to get a win like that we’ll take it obviously,” Pusch Ridge coach Jerry Harris said. “Our offense gets a lot of attention but our defense has played lights out all year and certainly it takes both sides in order to have a solid team and that’s what we have this year.”
The Lions put the game away in the third quarter with a pair of touchdowns by McLeod.
Pusch Ridge relied on the running game, racking up 416 yards and five touchdowns. The team threw just twice. The Lions were stout on defense overall, outside of the game’s initial drive by Franklin. The Lions forced the Chargers to come up short on fourth down on six different occasions, with two of those in the red zone.