Thanks to its special teams and an opportunistic defense, Queen Creek’s first foray into the 3A playoffs got off to a good start.
The eighth-seeded Bulldogs scored five first-half touchdowns without driving more than 25 yards and eased to a 61-13 victory over ninth-seeded host Tuba City in the first round of the 3A playoffs Friday night.
The victory advances Queen Creek (9-2) to a quarterfinal matchup with South Region rival and top seed Seton Catholic, which pummeled Sedona Red Rock 54-0.
“The defense did a great job tonight,” said Queen Creek coach Curt LeBlanc. “We scored some points, but the defense was outstanding tonight.”
The Warriors (6-4) were making a game of it in the first half before two critical mistakes clinched Queen Creek’s victory. A 62-yard Thomas Sanfilippo punt pinned Tuba City at its own 3, and after two plays and Queen Creek’s final timeout with 31 seconds left, the Warriors needed to just kneel to end the half.
Instead, Warrior quarterback Courtney Tsingine dropped back to pass and under pressure tossed a ball that Bridger Hubbard intercepted and ran in from 6 yards out.
“I was really surprised (Tsingine was throwing). I’m glad he did though,” Hubbard said. “I was thinking, ‘Just don’t drop it.’ That only happens once.”
Tuba City was stuck on its 8 after the ensuing kickoff and this time chose to run. Tony Haiku, though, fumbled and Brandon Smith recovered for Queen Creek at the 4. Hayden Moss scored two plays later for a 34-7 halftime edge.
The Queen Creek defense added another score in the second half when reserve defensive back Nick Capriato returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown.
The Bulldogs held Tuba City to 24 yards rushing on 31 attempts and forced five turnovers. In the second quarter alone, the Warriors had minus-29 yards of total offense.
“We were just a really powerful defense tonight,” Hubbard said. “We hit them hard and we kept hitting them until the end.”
Queen Creek’s early lead was forged by its special teams. Tuba City’s first possession ended with a Ryan Patterson blocked punt. Chris Hallett recovered at the Warrior 6. Tuba City’s second possession also ended with a punt, a punt Chad McRae returned 30 yards to the 25.
Garrett Lock and Moss, respectively finished off Queen Creek’s drives with TDs.
A Sanfilippo fumble recovery set up a Moss-to-Hallett touchdown and Queen Creek led 22-0 midway through the first quarter.
Tsingine threw for 157 yards for the Warriors.