Two guys who wore No. 40 jerseys saw each other face-to-face about 40 times on Saturday night.
One, Winslow running back Kelly Wood laughed a lot, to the tune of 286 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The other, Seton Catholic linebacker Patrick Larsen, laughed last.
Thanks to a couple tackles for loss and a last-second interception, defending-champion Seton survived a wild final drive by Winslow and hung on for a 27-20 win in the Div. IV quarterfinal playoffs.
The win sends No. 2-seed Seton to the semifinals for a third consecutive season, a first in the school's history.
The Sentinels might have wanted another chance at Snowflake (the only team to beat the Sentinels in September) but instead will face No. 6 River Valley next Saturday night at North Canyon H.S.
Wood is listed at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, but the senior ran right up the gut and off-tackle with reckless abandon, and, even after 30-plus carries, showed little loss in his bounce. He scored all three Winslow touchdowns and had 10 runs of 10 yards or more, including a 61-yarder in the third quarter.
More than a dozen times, it was the other No. 40 who eventually brought him down. After a wild sequence during the game's final drive eventually ended with Larsen's fourth-down interception, he sought out Wood to compliment his running abilities.
"I'm so tired," Larsen said with a smile, still huffing 10 minutes after the game.
He earned a rest. Twice in the fourth quarter, Winslow drove the ball in hopes of tying the game, but Larsen came up with a trio of what were rare tackles behind the line of scrimmage on Wood. The final coming in the game's final minute while Winslow moved into Seton's red zone.
"I knew I could not let go," Larsen said. "I knew if I let go he could have gone for some yards. I was nervous because I felt myself being dragged."
Not bad for a junior who hadn't played linebacker at any level until two years ago, and who missed all of last season with an ankle injury because of horseplay on a staircase outside the school.
Seton took a 27-13 lead when Kyle Johnson (262 yards, 3 TD) found Niko Villegas for a 61-yard catch-and-run for a score, followed by a 3-yard score to Brandon Garcia.
Winslow's defense held Seton early in the fourth, and again Wood plowed his way down the field against Seton's smaller-sized defensive front (the Sentinels biggest defender is 185 pounds). Again going up the middle for chunks of yardage, Wood scored from 14 yards out for his third score to pull Winslow within a touchdown with 7:40 left.
"Easily the best running back we've seen this year," Seton coach Rex Bowser said. "He just kept running and coming and coming."
Winslow held, but Seton's defense forced a turnover on downs near midfield with two minutes left. But Seton's Antonio Campanella had the ball ripped out of his hands with barely a minute left, and Winslow had life again.
Demetrius Gamez found himself alone behind Seton's secondary and James Martinez hit him for 46 yards on third-and-10 and Winslow entered Seton's red zone.
Following a sack by George Wolter and Winslow spiking the ball to stop the clock, a fourth-down heave into the end zone was incomplete, but the Sentinels were called for pass interference. It gave Winslow a fourth-and-goal from the 15, which gave Larsen his interception when Martinez rolled to his right and tried to hit the receiver behind Larsen.
"When you're in the playoff it doesn't have to pretty, it just has to be a win," Bowser said.
In addition to his safety duties, Villegas had five catches for 133 yards and a touchdown for the Sentinels (11-1). Garcia had six catches for 55 yards and a TD.
With only one starter on each side of the ball returning from last year's championship team (Campanella and Villegas), Bowser felt his team looked like a slew of kids used to playing at the JV level early in the season, capped by a mistake-prone, penalty-filled loss to Snowflake.
"I kinda thought we were a year away from contending again because we were so young and inexperienced, starting from scratch," Bowser said. "They just kept getting better and better week after week after week, and asking a lot of questions."
Seton Catholic 27, Winslow 20
First Downs: SC 13, W 21
Rushing: SC 19-53, W 48-310
Passing (Comp.-Att.-Yards-TD-INT): SC 14-22-252-3-0, W 6-13-71-0-1
Fumbles-lost: SC 7-36, W 9-80
Winslow 0 13 7 0 -- 20
Seton 6 7 14 0 -- 27
Seton: Antonio Campanella 1 run (kick failed)
Winslow: Kelly Wood 2 run (kick failed)
Seton: George Wolter 21 pass from Kyle Johnson (Johnson kick)
Winslow: Wood 30 run (Thomas kick)
Seton: Niko Villegas 65 pass from Johnson (Johnson kick)
Seton: Brandon Garcia 3 pass from Johnson (Johnson kick)
Winslow: Wood 14 run (Thomas kick)
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.