Paradise Valley couldn’t make up this ending.
The Trojans overcame a 26-point second-half deficit, scored 10 points in the final 1:05 of regulation, then stuffed a 2-point conversion attempt in overtime to shock visiting Phoenix Thunderbird 40-39 in a Division III, Section III game.
“I have had a couple of overtimes in my career but that was probably the most exciting to come back like that,” Paradise Valley coach Donnie Yantis said. “I told our offense we are not out of it. We shot ourselves in the foot every time and they really didn’t do anything to stop us; we stopped ourselves. I told our guys it wasn’t over and in this offense we can score no matter how much time is on the clock.”
Ryan Finley led Paradise Valley (2-1) on the game-tying drive after the Trojans blocked a punt attempt out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 1:05 left to pull within 33-25.
Following a healthy kick return by Jordan Garvey to the Thunderbird 46, Finley connected on two of his next five passes but was sacked at the Thunderbird 40. The quarterback had the presence of mind to spike the ball on the next play, setting up a third-and-21 with 14 seconds left.
“There was no give up in anyone’s eyes,” Finley said. “We knew we had to score and we had our 2-point play picked out already.”
Finley knew he had to make a play and delivered a Hail Mary pass that Joey Gatewood outjumped the coverage and caught at the 1 but was unable to find the end zone. The clock stopped with 2 seconds remaining to reset the chains. Finley called his own number and he was able use his long frame to get into the end zone.
Thunderbird (2-2), a Cinderella state champion last season, had one final chance to prevent a colossal fourth-quarter collapse, but Finley hit Dakota Ferch in the corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 33 and send it to overtime.
From then on it was destiny for the Trojans as the Thunderbird sideline was in shock.
“Our kids don’t quit,” Yantis said. “We are very resilient.”
AIA high school football overtime rules state that each team will get an untimed offensive possession with four downs that start at the 10-yard line.
Paradise Valley had two unsuccessful run plays, setting up a third down at the 7. Finley again tried to find Ferch over the middle but Thunderbird broke up the play. However, the Chiefs were flagged for pass interference, placing the ball at the 3-yard line. A play later Garvey scooted in from 2 yards out and after a successful PAT, Paradise Valley led 40-33.
Thunderbird wasted no time on its OT possession as Kani Benoit used a counter run to score from 10 yards out. The Chiefs lined up for the extra point but just before the kick Yantis called timeout. During the timeout, Thunderbird decided to attempt the 2-point conversion but Connor Hustead was tripped up just short of the goal line and the comeback was complete.
“A great game, definitely a turning point for our season,” said Finley, who completed 39 of 57 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I threw some good balls and some bad balls, but my receivers made me look good,” Finley said.
Thunderbird built its lead behind the combination of Benoit and Hustead in the third quarter.
Benoit had touchdown runs of 53 and 51 yards while Hustead scamped in from 11 yards to put the Chiefs ahead 33-7 with 1:33 left in the third.
Paradise Valley began the long climb to get back into the game as Finley found Gatewood on a 7-yard TD pass as the third quarter came to an end, cutting the lead to 33-14.
The fourth quarter had an inauspicious start as Chiefs quarterback Vinnie Marin was sacked in the end zone for a safety. After each team traded fumbles, Finley found a streaking Ferch for a 33-yard score to bring Paradise Valley within 33-23 with 3:57 left.
The Trojans executed a onside kick that was recovered but three plays later Finley was intercepted and any thought of a comeback appeared to be dead.
Thunderbird mismanaged the clock and had three holding calls and a delay of game that set up a punt out of its own end zone that was blocked, and the unreal comeback was set in motion.