SAN TAN VALLEY — Through the first five games of the 2020 Arizona high school football season, the Poston Butte Broncos could be described in one simple word: Dominant.
They never trailed a game at the half, were opportunistic on the defensive side of the ball forcing turnovers and used their power running attack to put away teams early and expand the lead late.
Friday night followed a different script, as the Broncos scuttled early but returned their star senior running back Zion Burns in the second half to take care of business. Poston Butte trailed rival Combs 14-12 at halftime but outscored the Coyotes 32-0 in the final 24 minutes winning the game 44-14.
The victory gave the Broncos the 4A Black Canyon region title and a 6-1 record, including a perfect 3-0 mark at home. Poston Butte will almost certainly host a home playoff game next week against an undetermined opponent.
“This is our school’s first regional championship,” Poston Butte coach Dain Thompson said. “We’ve bounced around to all kinds of different regions in Arizona. We’ve been in Tucson, Metro and Black Canyon now; we’ve been a lot different places with a lot of different teams.”
A key reason for the team’s success during a COVID-riddled season with new protocols and chaos all around was the leadership of a roster that featured an astounding 20 seniors. They worked hard to ensure that their final season wouldn’t be derailed.
“The seniors know that’s it’s not just about them,” Thompson explained. “This is something that we want to build from. We would love to get to the position where these kinds of experiences are the expectation.”
Burns was not utilized on either side of the ball in the first half against Combs, but he put his stamp on the game after returning in the second half. Burns carried the ball nine times for 101 yards and three touchdowns, running all over the beleaguered Combs defense.
His presence made all of the difference. Combs (2-3) coach Travis Miller put it bluntly.
“Zion Burns is a good athlete,” he said. “He’s a game changer and he brought an element that we couldn’t stop. You recognize a player like Zion Burns, and that’s what makes the difference.”
Combs utilized a ground-and-pound attack similar to that of their rival Poston Butte to control the ball. Sophomore quarterback Tanner Hale used his maneuverability to make plays and was comfortable handing the ball off to bell cow senior running back Joey Jensen.
Hale completed 4-of-9 throws for 70 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Jensen excelled, carrying the ball 24 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns, with one of the scores coming in the passing game. Poston Butte quarterback Gavin Lloyd capped off his regular season high school career going 7-of-9 for 121 yards with one interception and a rushing touchdown. Junior defensive sensation Amari Gilmore contributed as well with two interceptions and a rushing touchdown out of the wildcat formation.
The Coyotes now return home for their final game of the regular season against Phoenix Arcadia, while the Broncos will turn their attention to the 4A state playoffs.
Poston Butte finished the season 1 yard shy of being undefeated. Now with the new season beginning and colder temperatures creeping up in the desert, they’re a team nobody feels comfortable playing on any given Friday.