QUEEN CREEK — Maricopa is playing better football as the end of the regular season draws near, but the Rams are running out of time.
In desperate need of a win, No. 19 Maricopa went on the road and was down just 34-27 to No. 9 Queen Creek Casteel late in the fourth quarter. But Maricopa quarterback Daxton Redfern, who played an excellent game, was intercepted by defensive back John Vilhauer, who returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.
That score with just 3:20 remaining in the game gave Casteel a 41-27 lead, and the Colts held on to win by the same score.
“We didn’t finish it,” Maricopa coach Brandon Harris said. “I felt like we had a good game plan, I felt like our kids were focused, we had a great week of practice. I know it sounds like the same old song – it’s a young team, and it takes awhile. It just does ... I’m real proud of them. They came out and they played hard tonight.”
Maricopa (3-6, 0-4 5A San Tan) got off on the right foot when safety Dominic Hall intercepted Casteel quarterback Dane Christensen in the first quarter, which set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from Redfern to Jackson Lindseth.
However, Casteel (6-3, 2-2) responded immediately, as Benjamin Blancas scored on a 6-yard run less than two minutes later.
The Rams made a couple of defensive stops on goal-line stands, including one right before the end of the second quarter that kept Maricopa within one possession. The Rams stoned Blancas on a 4th-and-2 run and trailed just 21-14 at the half.
Redfern, a senior, showed poise and accuracy that he had not shown all season. He threw two interceptions late in the fourth quarter, but the Rams would not have been in position to win without him.
Redfern completed 16 of 24 passes for 213 yards and four touchdowns. Harris said it was his best performance of the year.
Unfortunately for the Rams, they lost star running back Mister Chavis in the third quarter. Chavis was tackled and his head snapped back and hit the turf hard on the way down.
He was removed from the game with what appeared to be a concussion. Chavis finished with 12 carries for 50 yards.
Maricopa athletic director Jake Neill and principal Brian Winter were ejected from the game in the fourth quarter. An official told PinalCentral it was because of words they directed at him, although it wasn’t clear what was actually said.
Maricopa receiver Ilijah Johnson caught touchdown passes of 28 and 19 yards. Anton Avington had a 4-yard TD reception early in the fourth quarter to draw the Rams within one score at 34-27.
While the Maricopa defense played well for the most part, it gave up some big plays in the secondary. Christensen, a very accurate thrower, completed 14 of 18 passes for 326 yards and three scores.
Maricopa has another tough game against No. 15 Gilbert (3-6, 0-4) next week, and Harris said his team needs to regroup and take care of business. There’s just one way the Rams qualify for the 5A state playoffs.
“We need to get a win,” Harris said.