Any hope of a playoff berth for Tempe appear to have fallen apart after the Buffaloes’ 34-17 loss to Maricopa on Friday night.
Plagued by mental lapses all game, the Buffaloes (6-4) started off poorly on their first possession after halfback Jordan Wiatr coughed up the ball to the Rams (7-3) on Tempe’s own 34-yard line. Maricopa easily took advantage of the situation with an efficient drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Caleb Buck to tight end Franshua Avila.
Maricopa and Tempe proceeded to exchange scoring drives, with the trade-off ending with Rams up 20-10 midway through the second quarter. But Tempe’s attempt to bridge the scoring gap with less than a minute left in the half failed after quarterback Emanuel Gant’s pass was picked by Maricopa linebacker Chauncey Hayslip and returned to the Tempe 9-yard line. Maricopa running back Kentrell Coleman ended the ensuing series with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 17 seconds left on the clock.
Tempe cut the deficit to 27-17 with five minutes left in the third quarter after Gant connected with Wiatr on a 2-yard touchdown pass, but a 2-yard touchdown reception by Avila early in the fourth quarter and a crippling lost fumble by Wiatr within the Maricopa 10 on the ensuing drive wrapped up the Rams’ victory.
Gant ended the game completing 20 of his 36 passes for 215 yards, one touchdown and an interception, with junior receiver Massiah Smith leading the team with 104 yards on eight receptions. Wiatr and teammate Raija Holt combined to rush for 138 yards on 13 carries, although they fumbled the ball three times.
Leading Maricopa in its win was Coleman, who ran the ball 31 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns and added 63 receiving yards and a touchdown on three catches. Buck finished the game 13 for 20 and totaled 200 yards and three touchdown passes, with Avila and junior receiver Tim Byrd tallying 51 and 63 of those yards, respectively.
What hurt Tempe the most were missed opportunities on offense stemming from several dropped passes by the Buffaloes’ receivers and an inability to keep the ball off the ground, as Tempe lost two of its five fumbles. Coach Brian Walker attributed the jitters to the pressure the team faced entering the game, some of which he said was reinforced by recent media attention.
“Things didn’t work out,” he said.
Although all official results won't be known until tomorrow, the loss – coupled with the two others the Buffaloes have sustained in the last four games – will more than likely prevent Tempe from making the postseason. Conversely, the win probably sealed Maricopa’s first playoff trip since 2007.
It wasn’t the way Tempe wanted to end its season, but Walker said the team made huge strides this year and has several talented underclassmen, including Gant, Smith and receiver Sebastian Watkins, capable of improving their own skills and the Buffaloes’ fortunes next year.
“The sun will come up tomorrow and God is still awesome,” Walker said. “We’re not done; Tempe High is not done.”