In football, anyone with enough heart and skill can rally their team to victory, regardless of circumstances.
That’s what happened in Gilbert on Friday night, as sixth-ranked Campo Verde put up 26 unanswered points to beat No. 3 Higley, 26-22, and move on to the 5A Conference semifinals.
The second meeting of these two teams started off well for Higley, the winner of the last game, scoring 22 points in the first half. The defense, while giving up some yards throughout the first half, was able to keep them in check once they passed the 50 yard line.
The offense was cruising thanks the arm and legs of junior quarterback Kai Millner, who scored all three touchdowns for the Knights. With 1:21 left, though, the Coyotes had the ball and were moving it down the field until senior quarterback Zach Herrera hit senior receiver Ryan Hutchens for a 30-yard touchdown pass to make it 22-6.
Campo Verde coach Max Ragsdale said it was huge that his team ended the half with points on the board.
“We went into halftime saying we got all the momentum and it just carried over into the second half,” Ragsdale said.
After halftime, the team’s defenses reigned supreme as both offenses were unable to score a single point in the third quarter. The game picked up in the fourth quarter, however, when the Coyotes had the ball thanks to numerous Higley penalties and multiple first downs. With eight minutes left in the game, Herrera found Hutchens once again and scored another touchdown to cut the lead in ten. A failed two point conversion kept it a two-possession game but that wouldn’t stop the Coyotes.
Campo Verde would get a massive three-and-out the next drive and on fourth and 10, Herrera found Hutchens again in the end zone in single coverage and launched it to him for the touchdown. At 22-19, the feeling in the stadium was different as the Coyotes weren’t the wounded but they were the predators, stalking the stumbling Knights until they slipped up.
That slip up came the next drive when the Knights went three and out. Higley's punt was blocked, setting up Campo Verde at the three yard line. That was all junior running back Caden Calloway needed to capture game-tying touchdown.
The Knights had one more drive to take the lead but after a dropped pass that would’ve won it for the Knights, Millner launched it deep on fourth and 12 and it fell incomplete. The comeback was completed and for Herrerra, he said he couldn’t explain it.
“We don’t ever give up, we didn’t care what the scoreboard was,” Herrerra said. “We came out, thinking it was 0-0, came out and fought… It’s just insane man. You guys don’t know how crazy, how hard we work for this. We’re just gonna keep on fighting and man, this just feels so good with my brothers.”
However, this comeback came with the price of ending the promising season of Higley. The Knights went 8-4 on the season with a seven game winning streak after losing the first two games. The team was fierce on both sides of the ball, with senior defensive end Jason Harris terrorizing quarterbacks with 23 sacks. The offense was balanced thanks to Millner and senior running back Isaiah Eastman doing damage at their respective positions. However, that all came to an end as the Knights failed to stop the comeback.
A loss like this is devastating for everyone, from the coach to the fans. Many players were in tears and were comforting each other out of respect as you could hear a pin drop on their sideline after the game.
For coach Eddy Zubey, he said it was a “learning season” for the team but was proud of them.
“The guys rallied the troops and we came together, came close and just at the end we just didn’t have it there in this last game," Zubey said. "But it’s no fault of the effort of these guys, they came out, they played hard."
With how drastic a season can end, Zubey said it was hard for him to speak about how he’ll think about this team but he did say he cares for the guys and is extremely proud of them.
“These speeches at the end of the last game of the season are always tough,” Zubey said. “I really don’t know what to say to them other than I love them and I’m here for them and I know as time goes by, I’ll be able to formulate more and better words for them to talk to them but tonight it was just that I love them and I’m here for them for the rest of their life.”
For the Coyotes, Ragsdale said he’s not focused on the game next week yet, as he wanted to enjoy this win with his team, one that he said is “the tightest team we’ve ever had” and that he’s so proud of.
“I’m not worried about that right now, we’re just gonna enjoy this (win) right now,” Ragsdale said.
Campo Verde will face No. 2 Notre Dame Prep in the 5A Conference semifinals next Friday at McClintock High School.
HHS 15 7 0 0 -- 22
CV 0 6 0 20 -- 26
HHS -- Millner 1 run (2-point conversion), 7:21
HHS -- Millner 19 pass to Mack (PAT), 3:28
HHS -- Millner 3 pass to Haney (PAT), 1:22
CV -- Herrera 32 pass to Hutchens (blocked PAT), 0:21
CV -- Herrera 25 pass to Hutchens (Failed Two point conversion), 8:25
CV -- Herrera 25 pass to Hutchens (PAT), 6:33
CV -- Calloway 7 run (PAT), 3:43