Canyon del Oro High School running back Stevie Rocker collided with Tempe Marcos de Niza safety Collin Gordon and the air went out of Dorado Stadium.
Unbelievably, the season had ended, on fourth-and-1 at the Padres’ 15-yard line.
The scoreboard read 13-7 for the visitors and CDO coach Dustin Pearce was at a loss for words. He hadn’t planned a farewell speech for the first-round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
This CDO team, seeded No. 3, had big dreams. A few weeks ago, a strong performance at Salpointe Catholic put the Dorados in the top 10 of the entire state, regardless of conference. Yet there they were, mouths agaped, watching the 14-seeded Padres (6-5) celebrate a stunning upset.
“I’ll probably never watch the tape, but it would tell us what went wrong,” said Peace, whose team finishes the season 8-3. “I wasn’t prepared for that kind of speech tonight. When you lay it all on the line, like the boys did, it’s going to hurt. Sometimes a lot of things are focused on the end result, but the process is what it is about.”
A CDO victory seemed inevitable even after Marcos de Niza took the lead with a 17-play, 79-yard opening touchdown drive. But each time the Dorados marched into enemy territory they were turned away.
All seven of their drives ended on Marcos de Niza’s side of the field. That included two fumbles and an interception which was ripped away from tight end Dustin Sheeley by linebacker Malaki Corella on the 3-yard line with 3:28 left.
CDO forced a quick three-and-out and took over at Marcos de Niza’s 46 with 1:55 remaining. Senior running back Gavin Davis bruised his way to the 24, and the Dorados called their final timeout with 1:00 remaining. But those 24 yards, in such little time, was an insurmountable obstacle for the one-dimensional offense.
All season CDO’s passing attack has struggled. It came to a head against Marcos de Niza, which willingly surrendered the secondary to put nine defenders in the box, begging quarterback Montana Neustadter to win the game with his arm. He completed zero of his seven passes, although there were a few drops.
“We weren’t effective throwing the ball,” Peace said. “At the end of the day, we just made too many mistakes across the board.”
Thus, a season that began with so much promise, including the first 7-0 start since the 2009 state championship team, ended so abruptly, the players walking off the field just two hours after kickoff.
That was by design. The Padres came into Dorado Stadium and beat CDO at its game, dominating time of possession via the run game, as tailback Yakeen Baylis rushed for 74 yards on 20 carries. They converted 6 of 10 third downs and picked up two fourth-down conversions as well.
“They are a heck of a power-run team, and that’s where we hang our hat, too,” Marcos de Niza coach Eric Lauer said. “It was mano-a-mano, a big-man fight.”
After winning games like that all season, CDO just came up short Friday night.