Their coaches were rivals on the field about 20 years ago, and now the teams are developing a rivalry after playing three times in little more than a year.
Max Ragsdale's Campo Verde Coyotes won the rubber match Friday night 30-20 at Vista Grande, avenging a six-point loss to the Spartans in the independent region title game at the end of last season. Campo Verde won a regular season matchup handily earlier last season.
Ragsdale, who played at Apache Junction, and Vista Grande's Carlo Hernandez, who played at Casa Grande Union, know and respect each other. But it was Ragsdale who left with a win - and with that, a spot in the Division III playoffs.
"I think we were able to qualify," he said after his team finished the regular season with a 6-4 record. The loss dropped Vista Grande to 4-6.
Campo Verde is the 16th seed in the Div. III bracket and will play top-seeded Tucson Sabino in the first round.
The outcome hinged on a few key plays late in the first quarter and early in the second, when Vista Grande lost a pair of fumbles in Campo Verde territory, couldn't capitalize on an opportunity, then was unable to stop Campo Verde.
The Spartans drove to the Coyotes' 19-yard line with just under 5 minutes left in the first quarter before losing a fumble. Campo Verde returned the favor on the very next play, and Vista Grande took over on the Coyotes' 15, only to be stopped inches short of the goalline when quarterback Levi Durnil couldn't score on fourth down.
Vista Grande scored a safety on the next play, tackling Lorenzo Sanchez in the end zone to take a 2-0 lead.
But after holding Campo Verde to three plays and out on its next possession, the Spartans lost another fumble after driving to the Coyotes' 20-yard line. Campo Verde responded with a 10-play, 64-yard scoring drive. Brandon Flores caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Rand Hawk on third-and-goal with 5 minutes, 46 seconds left in the half.
After that, the wheels came off for Vista Grande. Durnil threw an interception on the Spartans' third play after the kickoff, and Campo Verde scored three plays later on a 23-yard pass from Hawk to Flores. The teams traded interceptions before Jaime Arellano kicked a 22- yard field goal with 16.9 seconds left in the first half to give Campo Verde a 16-2 lead.
The Coyotes went 63 yards in eight plays to start the second half, with Devante Spears getting the touchdown on a 19-yard run to make it 23-2.
Vista Grande came to life after an interception late in the third quarter, going 23 yards in five plays as Daniel Robbins scored on a 9-yard run to cut the deficit to 23-8.
Spears scored on a 6-yard run early in the fourth quarter to put Campo Verde up 30-8, but Vista Grande wasn't done yet. The Spartans made things interesting by scoring twice in a span of just over 4 minutes, first on a 28-yard pass from Durnil to Sergio Iruegas, then on a 7-yard run by Robbins five plays after a deflected punt traveled just one yard.
The last score came with exactly 5 minutes left to play, but the Spartans never got the ball back as Campo Verde used 10 plays to run out the clock.
Campo Verde won despite fumbling seven times, though the Coyotes lost just one. Vista Grande outgained Campo Verde, 325 to 315 yards, in total offense, but had two interceptions, two fumbles lost and six penalties for 50 yards.
"We told them that Vista Grande took something away from you last year," Ragsdale said.