SCOTTSDALE — For the second straight year, Williams was a little too big, too strong and too deep for Superior to overcome.
Uncharacteristic miscues and penalties also cost the Panthers and kept them from making a fourth consecutive 1A title game appearance, as they were defeated 44-26 by the Vikings on Friday at Coronado High School.
The Vikings also beat the Panthers 35-20 in the 2019 1A championship game.
Superior (6-1) took a 26-24 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter after a 5-yard run from senior Adam Navarrette. But the wheels fell off after that, and Williams (6-1) scored 20 unanswered points to finish the game.
“We don’t normally do that,” Superior coach Ryan Palmer said of his team’s penalties and mistakes in key moments. “It was just mental mistakes and missed assignments. And let’s give Williams credit where credit’s due; they were bigger and stronger than us once again, had more depth than us again.”
The game started with a bizarre play where Superior squibbed an onside kick that traveled about a yard, but a Williams player touched it, which then allowed Superior to fall on it and recover the kick.
It was clear from the beginning that Palmer’s game plan was to beat Williams with the short passing game, trying to get his athletes the ball in space so they could make plays and get yards after the catch.
That resulted in a shocking 54 pass attempts for the Panthers.
Junior quarterback Matthew Cruz completed 33 of 51 passes for 330 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Navarrette connected on 1 of 3 throws, with the one completion a 7-yard TD to Nathan Duarte in the first quarter.
Williams used its size and physicality to pound the football. The workhorse was Drew Logan, who toted the rock 20 times for 220 yards and three scores. His last two carries of the game went to the house, from 38 and 40 yards, respectively.
One play that symbolized the missed opportunities for Superior came at the end of the second quarter. The Panthers were driving and looking to take the lead before halftime, as they were trailing just 16-14.
On 2nd-and-goal from the 4, a bad snap was way out of reach for Cruz, and Superior ended up falling on the ball after losing about 20 yards. But the clock was ticking and the Panthers were out of timeouts. They snapped the ball right before the buzzer to get a final play off, but it resulted in Cruz throwing incomplete into the end zone.
Navarrette was outstanding once again in his final high school football game. In addition to his TD pass, he caught 11 passes for 93 yards and rushed for 84 yards and two scores.
After the game, an emotional Navarrette said he was grateful to the Arizona Interscholastic Association for letting him play his senior season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tonight just wasn’t our night,” he said. “One turnover [early in] the game, [Williams] got momentum, came back, they scored. That’s all they had to do once they had a lead, they just had to pound it down our throats; that’s their game ... We had a good game plan for them, it just wasn’t our night.”
Palmer praised his senior class, which went to three straight 1A title games, including winning the 1A state championship in 2017, breaking a drought that dated back to 1954.
Players like Navarrette weren’t just on the varsity as freshmen, they were contributing heavily as freshmen.
“They’re gonna go down as one of the best groups in the history of the school, that’s for sure,” Palmer said. “What else can I say, their legacy is great ... The No. 1 thing about this group is they’re great kids and great students … they all work together as a family and they’re great leaders, on and off the field.”
That senior class includes Navarrette, Duarte, Matthew Diaz-Gonzalez, Joshua Marquez, Matthew Perez and Marc Mendoza. All of them caught at least one pass in the game.
Duarte had 10 receptions for 72 yards and a score, and Diaz-Gonzalez caught nine balls for 112 yards and a TD.
“I’m proud of our boys,” Navarrette said. “Our senior class, man. We’ve been successful in football [since] junior high. Championship seventh grade, championship eighth grade, made the state championship three years in a row and just came up short today.”
Navarrette said what stands out to him about the legacy of the seniors is heart and hard work, adding there is nothing better than playing with his “brothers.”
“Just the heart we have,” he said. “We worked hard. That’s all you can do. [Put] it all on the field every time.”