CASA GRANDE — The first indication that things would not go well for Casa Grande Union in Friday’s Class 4A state semifinal game against Glendale Cactus occurred with 3:34 remaining in the first quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-1 at the CG Union 30, Cactus running back Aki Pulu broke free for a touchdown that put the Cobras ahead to stay in what would become 35-13 victory that ended the Cougars’ best-ever postseason run.
Top-seeded CG Union (7-2) lost a fumble at the Cactus 34 on the ensuing possession. Fourth-seeded Cactus (8-2) capitalized with another fourth-and-1 TD run by Pulu, this time from 24 yards out with 11:08 left in the second quarter. His third touchdown came on a 37-yard run that capped the scoring with 4:12 remaining.
The Cobras went up 21-0 with 7:46 left in the second when Wil Galvan scored on a 7-yard quarterback keeper on fourth-and-goal.
“When you have opportunities for stops and they pick it up, it’s definitely deflating for the defense,” CG Union coach Jake Barro said.
It was a frustrating night all around for the Cougars, who also were burned for a 91-yard kickoff return TD after slicing the deficit to 21-7 early in the final period.
“That came at the worst possible time,” Barro said. “We thought that if we could stop them, then score, we’d be right back in this thing.”
CG Union’s point total was a season low and the points allowed were a season high. The Cougars unofficially were limited to 275 total yards (44 rushing, 231 passing).
“We probably played our worst game in all three phases,” Barro said. “But when there are only four teams left playing, it’s going to get tougher and tougher. Cactus was good, no question. But we made a lot of mistakes that bogged us down.”
The Cougars came in averaging 9.9 yards per play, 46.1 points and 472 total yards (310 rushing, 162 passing). Angel Flores threw touchdown passes of 73 yards to Demetrius Garrett and 17 yards to Jett Hale, but they struggled offensively for the most part.
CG Union punted five times on 12 possessions, committed three turnovers and lost the ball twice on downs. Flores was sacked six times, and the Cougars also were plagued by penalties (14 for 116 yards).
“We knew how tough Cactus was up front defensively, but we just kept hurting ourselves,” Barro said. “We’re normally one of the least penalized teams in 4A, so that was very uncharacteristic of us.”
CG Union overcame a 21-7 deficit to defeat Lake Havasu 62-28 in the play-in round. The Cougars fell behind Peoria four times in the quarterfinals before pulling away for a 47-30 victory. Cactus was a very different beast.
“You can’t spot a team that good 21 unanswered points,” Barro said.
The sting of falling one win short of a title game appearance eventually will be eased by the reality of what the team accomplished, he said.
“It’s always disappointing when you’re that close,” Barro said. “But when you look back, you have to realize what a special year it was for this program and the great things this group did. It was a fantastic season that gave the community something to be proud of in a very tough time. It was a ton of fun.”
The Cougars reached the playoffs for the third time in six years under Barro, whose 38 victories rank second among CG Union football coaches behind Al Van Hazel (78 in 13 years from 1951-63).The Cougars have finished under .500 only once during Barro’s tenure.