For the first time in school history, Campo Verde's football program has advanced to the 5A Conference championship game after the sixth-ranked Coyotes knocked off No. 2 Notre Dame Prep, 20-17, on Friday night.
Campo Verde coach Max Ragsdale believed the key to winning Friday night was his team's ability to be physical with a stout Notre Dame team.
“You got to match their physicality with ours and that’s the biggest thing to be able to try and play with them and limit some of those big plays that they get out of those two guys (quarterback Derek Elsholz and running back Dominick Mastro),” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale’s plan worked for the Coyotes in the first half.
Both teams struggled in their first two drives as they traded punts and Notre Dame turned the ball over on downs. Campo Verde star running back Caden Calloway exited the game with an ankle injury early on, but the Coyotes managed to find a rhythm on offense and move the ball down the field.
Senior quarterback Zach Herrera and senior wide receiver Ryan Hutchens connected for two touchdowns while Connor Calloway, Caden's younger brother, punched in a touchdown of his own.
Connor Calloway finished the game with 46 yards rushing on 11 attempts and a touchdown while Herrera and Hutchens connected three times for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
“I just read my DB and luckily I was able to communicate that with Zach and he found me, he threw the most perfect balls I’ve ever seen, and I just went up and played my game and got them,” Hutchens said.
On the other side of the ball, the defense was nothing short of amazing. They held the Saints to just one score in the first half and ended the half with a goal line sack to run out the clock.
But, after halftime, it was a completely different ballgame.
The Campo Verde offense came out flat. The connection between Herrera and Hutchens was nonexistent and the Coyotes were shut out in the second half. They were forced to punt on every possession except for one. Ragsdale believed that the offense was not ready for the adjustments the Notre Dame defense made during halftime.
“They made some adjustments," Ragsdale said. "They did some things they hadn’t really done in the past. They went to an odd front and we’re used to being prepared for an even front."
The Notre Dame offense was successful in spurts in the second half. The combination of Elsholz, Mastro and JD Roberts successfully drove the ball downfield on numerous occasions but were only able to come away with 10 second-half points.
Elsholz finished the game 13-of-23 for 136 yards and an interception. Mastro and Roberts combined for 194 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries.
Even so, the Saints found themselves down by only three points and were set to receive a Campo Verde punt with 3 minutes and 23 seconds left in the game.
Luckily, for the Coyotes, senior cornerback Chad Roderick forced a fumble on the return and Campo Verde recovered the ball.
Somehow, the Saints defense and offensive penalties forced the Coyotes to turn to senior kicker Junior Olayo, who then missed a 29-yard field goal.
Notre Dame once again had a chance to drive downfield with 2 minutes and 32 seconds left, but the Coyotes defense would not give up as they forced the Saints to turn the ball over on downs with 32 seconds left in the game.
Both Herrera and Ragsdale were quick to mention how instrumental their defense was in winning this game.
“Our defense is demolishing lately,” Herrera said. “Whenever our offense is struggling our defense steps up really big for us and we can’t appreciate them enough.”
“That’s a well-coached team and luckily, we were able to get what we got in the first half and we were able to hold on for the second half,” Ragsdale said. “Our defense has always been kind of our calling card and that’s what we’re gonna continue to do, is play defense and good special teams and do what we gotta do offensively.”
Campo Verde will face off against region foe and top-ranked Williams Field in the 5A championship at Sun Devil Stadium. Earlier this season, Campo Verde lost to Williams Field 35-13. Ragsdale said that this revenge game is exactly what the team has wanted all along.
“We got our shot at the big one at Sun Devil Stadium and probably against Williams Field and this team might have a chance to rectify a wrong,” Ragsdale said.
Campo Verde: 7 13 0 0 – 20
Notre Dame: 0 7 7 3 – 17
Campo Verde – Connor Calloway 3 rush (Olayo kick), 0:42
Campo Verde – Zach Herrera 24 pass to Ryan Hutchens (Olayo missed kick), 8:49
Notre Dame - Dominick Mastro 1 rush, (Chewning kick), 4:28
Campo Verde – Zach Herrera 8 pass to Ryan Hutchens, (Olayo kick), 2:34
Notre Dame - JD Roberts 1 rush, (Chewning kick), 3:30
Notre Dame - Griffen Chewning 29-yard field goal