SAN TAN VALLEY — A clash of styles between two southeast Valley schools produced plenty of offense Friday night, but the result came down to the trenches.
Queen Creek Eastmark (2-3) might be a week away from introducing some key transfers, but they still had plenty of weapons at their disposal against Poston Butte (3-1). Yet consistent pressure from the Broncos’ defensive line shut down the Firebirds’ running game and kept Gianni Mascolino at bay for most of the game, while a multifaceted running game showed what it could do en route to a 41-14 victory.
“This was a very physical game, and I thought we had guys flying around the field,” Thompson said. “This was the first game where we played with a high level of passion. We’re really close to turning the corner with this group.”
Mascolino certainly threw the ball often, but the Bronco defense kept him from finding a consistent rhythm. The junior completed 24 of his 46 pass attempts, accumulating 304 yards wit two touchdowns and one interception.
“He’s a really good player. He’s quick, he’s agile and he throws a nice ball,” Thompson said of Mascolino. “So we just made sure to shore up the run game so they were one-dimensional, then we tried to mix coverages, which we haven’t done much all year. But we wanted to mix it up so he couldn’t just sit there and be comfortable.”
Broncos starter Drew Dalmacio wound up stealing the spotlight on Friday, utilizing his arm and legs both to great success. He completed his first five passes of the game to set the tone early and keep the Firebird defense honest, then showed off what he could do on the ground. He finished the game throwing 9-15 for 114 yards and an interception, but added 142 yards and three touchdowns rushing.
“I think he’s proven that he’s a two-dimensional quarterback,” Thompson said. “He did a good job of commanding things, and we went high tempo a couple times, which allowed him to be a good general out there. And when he gets out in an open field, he can move it a bit.”
The first half was dominated by Poston Butte, scoring 21 points while not giving up a lengthy drive until the very end of the second, when time ran out before Eastmark could put points on the board. Justin Evans got in the endzone first with a blistering 29-yard run that had numerous defenders falling over. Then Keith Gray added a 16-yard touchdown shortly after. A sneak by Dalmacio brought the game to its halftime score of 21-0.
To get things started in the third quarter, Aidan Contreras became the fourth Bronco to rush for a touchdown, and things looked to continue along the same path. However, Mascolino finally connected on a deep ball, finding Daylan Chichester along the right sideline for a 59-yard touchdown that got Eastmark on the board.
The Firebirds recovered the ensuing onside kick, putting some pressure on Poston for the first time. However, the defense quickly stepped up and forced a fumble on the first play of the drive. While Dalmacio would then make his one big mistake of the night with an interception, on the next drive he made up for it with a 45-yard touchdown run to return some peace of mind to the Broncos’ sideline.
“If it wasn’t for the offense screwing up a couple times and making some errors that gave them field position, the defensive package would have really showed,” Thompson said. “We had a couple glitches, a couple breakdowns, but overall they did a really good job of preparing.”
Early in the fourth quarter, the Firebirds made quite the play as Dalmacio’s deep pass went through the initial receiver’s hands, only for it to become clear that the ball was actually intended for Austin Johnston, who was in the back of the endzone for Eastmark’s second and final touchdown of the night.
Lest there be any thoughts of a comeback, Dalmacio once again took control of things and got his third rushing touchdown of the night. Then Nijay Wilson made a spectacular leaping interception in the endzone to put the game to bed.
Besides Dalmacio, the leading rusher for the night was Octavious Joe with 107 yards on a demanding 22 touches that helped Poston win the possession battle. Evans led the Broncos in receiving with 65 yards on only two catches.
Poston will face their toughest challenge of the season next Friday, as they travel to Glendale to face Cactus, one of the leading contenders for the 4A state championship. Thompson did not mince words about what they’ll be up against or what it will take to get an upset.
“I’m really excited to see what happens this week,” Thompson said. “We’re going to be playing one of the best teams in Arizona, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s going to be one of those games where we have to play really disciplined football and execute really well just to have a chance to be in the game.”