MARICOPA — It takes quite the game to leave players and coaches speechless on both sidelines. But what transpired Friday night in Maricopa’s home opener against Mesa Skyline was anything but normal, certainly not with a score of 7-5.
Bizarre or not, it was the Rams (2-0) who once again stole victory from the jaws of defeat, celebrating a come-from-behind victory over the Coyotes (0-2) after doing the same a week prior against Tucson.
“I’ve never been a part of a game like that before,” said Maricopa coach Rick Skinner. “I still cannot believe it. I’m just happy we pulled it out.”
It was going to be a crushing loss for whoever came up short this game, as both teams made a plethora of mistakes and blew amazing scoring opportunities. Despite the ball moving pretty well on both sides, there was no score until Skyline kicked a field goal with four minutes left in the second quarter. Then it remained 3-0 until there was 2:45 left in the game.
That was when the Rams finally broke free for a big play. They faced a 4th-and-2 from their own 32-yard line, with Skyline appearing to expect them to run a quick cross route. The defenders filled up the middle of the field, but forgot all about Kyree Washington, who slipped out to the side downfield and had no defenders anywhere near him.
Sophomore quarterback Damian Logan created some time with his legs and calmly completed the pass to Washington, who followed his blockers from side to side, avoiding all Coyote tacklers to put the Rams ahead with the game’s only touchdown.
“I wasn’t really focused on trying to outrun everyone,” Washington said. “I was just watching my blockers.”
When Jaylen Morris intercepted a pass on the Coyotes’ next possession, it seemed like the game would be over — but not on a night like this. There were plenty more hijinks left, it turned out.
A wayward snap sailed to the back of the end zone, forcing a Rams safety to make the score 7-5 and give Skyline the ball. Their quarterback, Gabe Tapia, completed a 40-yard pass through the air, then ran the ball to the 17. After a Maricopa penalty and another solid run, the Coyotes were suddenly 7 yards from a touchdown and well within field goal range.
However, perhaps the most bizarre part of the game happened next. Instead of sending out the field goal team with 18 seconds left, Skyline instead ran the ball up the middle. With no timeouts left, the offense scrambled to get back to the line to get off another play. But they weren’t quick enough, and time ran out. The Rams, somehow, had pulled it off.
“We found a way to get it done,” Skinner said. “We found a way to make a big play.”
It was quite the emotional turnaround from where the Rams were as the third quarter turned into the fourth. Still trailing 3-0, they got the ball within 5 yards of scoring in two straight possessions. In the first, Logan was hit as he threw the ball and it was intercepted. Skyline originally thought it had a pick-6, but the Rams were bailed out by a Coyote hitting a defenseless player far away from the play, wiping the points off the board.
Then on the second drive, the Rams moved the ball inside the 1, then were called for a delay of game penalty. They tried for the game-tying field goal, but the Coyotes blocked it to keep the score 3-0.
“We just have to stop making penalties, the dumb stuff we were doing,” Washington said. “We shouldn’t have been arguing with the other team. We had some unsportsmanlikes, all the offsides. We just have to be more disciplined.”
Through it all, despite spending a lot of time on the field, the Maricopa defense held firm. They were challenged to keep the Coyotes off the scoreboard in the second half, and for the second straight game, they succeeded. They made all the big tackles when they needed to, and gave their offense all the chances they needed to flip the score.
“Our defense played phenomenal. They played phenomenal last week,” Skinner said. “It’s not the I’m not proud of our offense. They battled. But the defense is really doing a great job.”
Next week is homecoming, and the Rams are going to have to play a much more disciplined game if they’re going to beat their neighbors from Casa Grande Union, which has its eyes on a 4A state championship with all-state talent in quarterback Angel Flores and running back RJ Keeton.
Skinner said he expects his team to be focused despite all the festivities going on, but told the players to not get complacent from winning the first two games.
“Something I’ve been focused on since I got here three months ago is trying to keep things positive,” Skinner said. “Adversity is going to happen in every game. And you just gotta stay level, you have to stay disciplined. And we didn’t do that a lot of this game.”