GILBERT — All Maricopa needed to do Friday was win, and it would qualify for the 5A playoffs.
The Rams had opportunities in the second half to do just that, but when it mattered, the offense sputtered in a 35-14 loss to Gilbert to end the season.
“Our defense played great and shut them down, shut them down but our offense has to respond, and I didn’t call good plays, and we didn’t execute the plays that I did call. So it’s all me,” Maricopa coach Brandon Harris said. “I didn’t do a good of a job coaching this year. The losses are my losses. I have to get better as a football coach.”
Gilbert jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter before Maricopa’s Tylek Mooney cut the lead to 14-7 with a 2-yard touchdown run.
The 15th ranked Tigers (4-6, 1-4 5A San Tan) responded when quarterback Will Plummer found Tyler Hironaka for a 23-yard touchdown strike and a 21-7 lead. The Rams countered when Daxton Redfern hit Mooney for a 50-yard scoring play that brought Maricopa to within a touchdown, 21-14 at halftime.
With the offense starting to heat up, all Maricopa needed in the second half was some defensive stops in order to tie it and possibility take the lead.
But as the defense stepped up, the offense struggled to take advantage of prime field position and turnovers – never coming close to getting points on the board with the only scoring chance coming in the fourth quarter when Roberto Esqueda’s 36-yard field goal attempt fell about 25 yards short of the crossbar.
“We would move the ball and there is a penalty or something happens and we move back,” Harris said. “We have to learn that when we get the opportunities, you have to punch them in, and we didn’t do it.”
Redfern ended the night with 110 yards passing, completing 9 of 19 passes. Mister Chavis, who had to leave in the Rams’ 41-27 loss to Queen Creek Casteel last week with an injury, had 174 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Chavis broke loose in the second quarter for a 78-yard run that took the ball down to the 4-yard line of the Tigers.
Gilbert added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter including Plummer’s fourth touchdown pass of the night – a 24-yard strike to Wyatt Zellner.
Plummer ended the night with 292 yards, completing 27 of 48 passes with three interceptions.
Meanwhile, Maricopa ends its season 3-7 overall and 0-5 in the 5A San Tan region.
“It’s a disappointing year,” Harris said. “I think we have some good pieces, but we have some challenges. We have to get better in the classroom. We have to keep people healthy and we have to get better numbers and keep selling football in our youth football league out there and our middle school programs and keep selling that Maricopa is a good place to come and get a good education.
“The school has improved tremendously on the academic front, and kids can get recruited out of here. We have proven that last year, and I will prove that again this year, and we will get kids out of here this year. Hopefully that will spread, and we will get some better players here.”
Maricopa will lose 17 seniors, but Harris said there is a strong junior varsity team coming up.
“There is a lot of attrition when we came in, and we are just trying to weather that a little bit with these young puppies to grow up and come in,” he said.
The young pups that Harris speaks of will have to grow into big dogs quickly next year as Maricopa will move up to 6A.
“6A football is 6A football but if you look at all of the divisions, like I said it before, San Tan is the second best region in the state in 5A or 6A. That is undisputed and everyone knows it,” Harris said. “There is no other division that goes six deep into the playoffs last year and had we won today, then all of us would’ve gone again. But we didn’t, and so five of the six are going.”
Under the latest region placement, Maricopa could be playing in a region that includes Tucson and Yuma schools.
“Those teams don’t play who we play, so we will be ready if that’s the division that we are going to go in,” Harris said.