Coolidge made a goal-line stand on fourth-and-inches with a little more than a minute left Friday night, and ran out the clock to beat Winslow 28-24 in the semifinals of the 3A playoffs at Mesa Community College.
The Bears, the defending state champions, will have a chance at a repeat in next Friday's title game at Tempe McClintock against Wickenburg, which defeated Chandler Seton Catholic 28-23.
Winslow wouldn’t have been playing from behind on its final offensive play had it been able to punch the ball in on short yardage.
Though the Bulldogs ran for 336 yards and passed for another 58, Winslow couldn’t convert extra points on any of its touchdowns, having a kick blocked and three pass attempts fail.
“I’ll tip my hat to Winslow. We were lucky,” Coolidge coach Carlo Hernandez said. “We were lucky to win this game. Their kids did a great job negating a lot of what we like to do.”
One thing Coolidge likes to do is run the ball, but Winslow’s defense made it a chore. The Bears ran for 154 yards on 30 carries, though two of those were for 73 yards — touchdown runs of 30 and 43 yards by tailback T.J. White. On its other 28 carries, Coolidge averaged 2.9 yards.
It didn’t take Coolidge long to take advantage of some good luck, though. The Bears scored 20 seconds into the game on the second play of the night, on White’s 30-yard run, after recovering a muffed kickoff.
On Winslow’s final drive, it took possession of the ball with more than six minutes remaining. The Bulldogs ran 13 times for 56 yards, but two key defensive stops kept them out of the end zone.
On third down, tailback Mark Armao went left and ran to the pylon, but Coolidge defensive back George Jones knocked him out of bounds inside the 1-yard line.
Then with 1:18 left on fourth down, the defensive line stood up Winslow fullback Justin Powell.
“(Winslow) just out-powered us up front (throughout the game),” Coolidge quarterback Jesse Wheeler said. “They just kept pounding all night long, but we made the play when it counted.”