TEMPE — Winning a football game is tough as it is.
Doing so undermanned is a whole other beast.
For the Poston Butte Broncos, it was war of attrition Friday night, with a player slow to get up or hurt seemingly every few plays.
While the team found a way to continuously battle thoughout the evening, the running game of the Padres and lack of key players at 100% ultimately doomed the Broncos (3-4; 0-2), falling 41-38 to Marcos de Niza (5-2; 2-0).
The Broncos, however, looked to have the upper hand to start the game. After a quick possession from the Padres, junior quarterback Gavin Lloyd and the Broncos offense quickly found success on the ground.
Starting on their own 6-yard line, the Broncos moved the ball with ease, running the rock right at the Padres. The drive was easily one of Poston Butte’s best of the night, as the team went 94 plays in nine plays, capped off by an 11-yard touchdown run from junior running back Zion Burns.
Marcos de Niza would add a score later in the quarter, but the Broncos were unfazed. After Burns unloaded for a 56-yard scamper on the first play of the ensuing drive, Lloyd did the rest of the work, going 16 yards for the score. With the touchdown, the Broncos carried a 14-7 lead into the second quarter.
Burns finished the night with 286 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He also added six tackles and a pass defensed.
But just as the team looked like it was just starting to heat up, injuries reared their ugly heads, causing a momentum swing in the first half.
Not only did the Broncos lose junior RB Nick Cocomello to an apparent leg injury, numerous starters dealt with some kind of issue while out on the field. Fellow running mate Burns wasn’t immune to the injuries, either, as he was seen multiple times trying to stretch out his arm.
“We lost some key players,” said Poston Butte head coach Dain Thompson. “We lost one of our best defensive players right off the bat so that was moving people around. But these guys all practice hard and work hard, and some of them weren’t quite ready to be in that kind of role that they got flung into, and I think that that was part of it.”
The second quarter was all Marcos de Niza, as Poston Butte played damage control, filling in roles with different bodies. But even in all the negative of the quarter, the Broncos were down just one score.
“On a positive note, I would say I finished the game really proud of my guys. We played a second quarter that was one of the worst quarters that we’ve played all year,” Thompson said. “When you only play five seniors those things tend to snowball and our guys at halftime found a way to regroup and comeback and play one of the toughest second halves that I’ve been a part of for a long time.”
While sophomore running back Yakeen Baylis opened up the second half scoring his fourth of five touchdowns on the night, the Broncos answered with a six-yard TD run from senior RB Khalil Cooper.
Not 33 seconds later, the Padres again found the end zone, this time on a 37-yard pass play. But again, Poston Butte and Burns didn’t blink, responding with a 71-yard score of their own 21 seconds after.
The flame that had gone out in the first half had been rekindled.
The uptick in play continued into the fourth quarter, as both sides traded blows yet again, giving Poston Butte one last shot to take home the victory down 41-38.
Starting on their own 6-yard line, the Broncos used a mix of chunk plays and numerous Padres penalties to move the chains inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
With five seconds left to play, Lloyd stepped back looking for the dagger. The protection broke down, but the QB stood in, throwing up a 50-50 ball in the back of the end zone. The ball sailed a bit longer than intended, as Lloyd overthrew his man and found the Padres defense instead.
With the defeat, the Broncos have lost their last two games by a margin of just four points.
“That’s two weeks in a row that we let one slip away and part of that is me,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to be better and make sure that I coach the young guys a lot better and so that we can move forward in the right direction.”
Up next, the Broncos take on the Mesquite Wildcats at home.