With a second consecutive 3A Metro East Region title on the line and injuries still plaguing the offense, American Leadership Academy – Gilbert North relied on its defense against Arizona College Prep on Friday night.
It proved to be effective, as the Eagles forced several turnovers and controlled the tempo of the game to defeat Arizona College Prep 38-6 to clinch the 3A Metro East Region championship.
“It feels good,” ALA coach Randy Ricedorff said. “I feel like we are on a roll and I feel like we are starting to get healthy. Every week we seem to gain a little momentum and get a little better.”
With junior quarterback Jack Ricedorff sidelined with a knee injury, ALA relied on senior running back Jacob McAleavy to fill the void under center. The Eagles went to the ground early and often in the opening half, but only managed to score once on offense, a 14-yard run by McAleavy in the first quarter.
While the offense initially struggled to get its footing against a stout ACP defense, ALA’s defensive unit was dominant when it mattered.
The Knights were able to move the ball on the Eagles but would eventually be forced into fourth down situations in which they weren’t able to convert. It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that ACP managed to get on the board thanks to a 19-yard pass from junior quarterback Mark Chavez to senior wideout James Chadwick.
A stop on defense gave ACP a chance to take the lead heading into the locker room, but ALA senior defensive back Derick Farabee jumped the route and intercepted Chavez’s pass, returning it for a touchdown.
“I just got too aggressive on offense,” ACP coach Marlon Blueford said. “Overall, I think we executed where we wanted to. But those big plays we were accustomed to making every week just weren’t there for us.”
The pick-six shifted all momentum to ALA’s side, but ACP’s defense continued to shut down the Eagles’ offense.
Both teams remained scoreless until just over 30 seconds remained in the third quarter. ALA sophomore running back Easton Webster broke the scoring drought with a 4-yard touchdown. From that point on, the Eagles’ defense was dominant.
A muffed punt by ACP resulted in a 24-yard field goal by ALA junior Frederik Olson. A turnover on downs on the Knights’ ensuing possession led to a 36-yard strike from McAleavy to senior wideout Taggart Caskey. Under two minutes later, another pick-six, this time by ALA senior Malakai Williams, sealed the victory for the Eagles.
“We have trust in our coaches and all of our teammates,” Williams said. “We just did what we knew we had to do to be aggressive and win.”
Despite playing out of position, McAleavy shined under center for ALA.
The senior completed 10 of 16 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 17 times for 94 yards and another score. Caskey was the main beneficiary at wideout for the Eagles, as the senior hauled in five passes for a staggering 134 yards and a touchdown.
But Ricedorff was quick to point out the effort by his defense not only against ACP, but in ALA’s last three games. The two defensive touchdowns Friday night raised the Eagles’ total to four in their last three outings.
“I always tell my teammates to act like champions and be champions,” Williams said. “Everything we do we have that mentality to not let each other down and have high standards.”
Despite being unable to put points on the board, ACP’s offense managed to put up solid numbers against ALA. Chavez completed 16 of 31 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown. But the Eagles were unable to get their ground game going, as they rushed for just 23 total yards on the night.
The lopsided loss, however, doesn’t take away from the exceptional turnaround ACP has experienced this season. The Knights finished the 2018 season 1-9 overall. Even with the loss Friday night, ACP is still 7-2 (2-1) overall with a matchup against Gilbert Christian (5-4, 1-3) to end the regular season next week before playoffs.
“We knew we were going to take some lumps early, so we didn’t really talk a lot about winning initially,” Blueford said. “But this offseason the boys really started to believe in building this brick-by-brick.
“It’s exciting for this city and it's exciting for this school and just overall, it shows the maturation of the program.”
ALA (5-4, 3-0) entered the matchup against ACP Friday night as the No. 11 team in the 3A Conference. The win will likely catapult them into the top 10. Should they handle business against Coronado (0-9, 0-3) next week to finish out the regular season, the Eagles may have the opportunity to host a first-round playoff game.
“Our confidence is improving, and we are in a good place right now,” Ricedorff said. “I like where we are at.”
ALA - McAleavy 14 run (Olson kick), :20
ACP -- Chavez 19 pass to Chadwick (Uzzell kick), 1:27
ALA -- Farabee interception return (Olson kick), :16
ALA -- Webster 4 run (Olson kick), :37
ALA -- Olson 24 field goal, 9:21
ALA -- McAleavy 36 pass to Caskey (Olson kick), 8:43
ALA -- Williams interception return (Olson kick), 6:59