SAN TAN VALLEY — As time ran out on the scoreboard, Justin Evans might have been a yard short. But then he felt it, the relentless push of his teammates who collectively decided they weren’t going to be upset on Friday, that their season wasn’t over. And when the chaos cleared, Evans had scored the biggest touchdown in Poston Butte history.
“I just had to score for my team. I had to get in the endzone and score,” Evans said. “It was all on my teammates pushing me over that line. We just won that game.”
It was the conclusion of a thrilling two-minute drive that was the perfect way to end Friday’s 4A first-round playoff game between No. 1 Poston Butte and No. 16 Phoenix Northwest Christian. The 39-37 final score included nine lead changes and a clash of styles featuring the Bronco running attack and the Crusader passing game.
It was fitting then that the Broncos ran their season-saving two-minute drill using only running plays. With starting quarterback Drew Dalmacio getting treated on the sideline with what is believed to be a minor injury, they might not have had any choice. So at first, 80 yards from the endzone and down by 4, they put the ball in the hands of their rock, Octavious Joe, who ran it six straight plays for 51 yards.
With Joe having given all he could, it was now Evans’ time to step up. He ran the ball 13 yards to get the ball to the Crusaders’ 6-yard line, and the ball was spiked with only four seconds left. That was when Broncos coach Dain Thompson decided to stick with what got them there, and called another run.
“It took believing in what we do best,” Thompson said. “Even though it’s a two-minute drill and everybody anticipates us throwing it all over the field, we can line up quickly and run our plays quickly. It was a roll of the dice there at the end, but it’s what we do best.”
There were maybe two minutes in the fourth quarter where Poston might have felt a little comfortable in the game, up by 9 in what would be the biggest lead for either team all night. Besides that, it was nerves on top of nerves, thanks largely to the impressive performance of NWC quarterback Ashton Kamp.
Kamp finished the game having completed 19 of his 24 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. That included many big plays that had the Bronco defenders wondering what happened. On the opening drive, for example, he hit Kyler Thruston in stride for a 74-yard touchdown, and followed it up later in the game with another 63-yarder.
“We had just absolute breakdowns,” Thompson said. “So it’s not like we have to go redesign everything. We just have to get better at what we do.”
But through all the lead changes and the turmoil, the Broncos knew they had control of the running game. In addition to Evans’ late heroics, Keith Gray came through with 164 yards and a touchdown. And then, of course, there was Joe, who had a whopping 287 yards on 28 carries, including a touchdown. So even while playing with a rotating cast at quarterback in the fourth quarter, he put the team on his back and made sure they were never out of it.
“He was just tough the whole game,” Thompson said. “He’s hard to bring down. He’s the kind of guy who knows the most important play is the next play. And I think lots of guy look at him and realize, as long as we have Octavious we’ve got a chance.”
The players all mobbed Evans after hit deciding score, moving as one unit around the track in a way that resembled how the final play unfolded. They did so celebrating the biggest night not only in their personal football lives, but in their school’s. Prior to Friday, Poston Butte had never won a playoff football game, and after a stunning upset by Phoenix St. Mary in last year’s postseason, it might have seemed as the seconds wound down like the same fate would meet this team.
But Thompson had a different feeling.
“We play until the time is out,” Thompson said. “We’ve had some times unfortunately in the past where the time has run out, but as long as there’s one tick left, we’re going to fight as hard as we can. And if you come up short, you can look yourself in the eye knowing you gave it your all. It’s just fortunate for us that that last play was inspired enough to get us over the line.”
The Broncos will host Prescott on Black Friday in the quarterfinal of the 4A playoffs.