Open division implications were on the line Friday night when sixth-ranked Campo Verde battled Higley in a matchup between two of the top teams in the 5A Conference.
The two teams traded blows throughout the first half, but Higley was ultimately able to pull away from Campo Verde, defeating the Coyotes 52-30.
“We have great athletes out there and we have a great offensive system,” Higley coach Eddy Zubey said. “Brandon Large is a great offensive coordinator and he just called all the right plays. We just took advantage of the situations.”
Higley held on to a one-score lead at the half after junior quarterback Kai Millner connected with junior Branson Heywood and senior Isaiah Eastman for the Knights’ only two touchdowns of the first half.
A 31-yard pass from Campo Verde senior quarterback Zach Herrera to senior wideout Danny McFarland, followed by a 43-yard field goal by Matt Godinez kept the game close.
With Higley set to receive the ball in the second half, Heywood knew his team needed a spark to take full control of the game. They got just that and more.
Heywood fielded the kick at his own 14-yard line, found a hole and raced down the Knights’ sideline. The 86-yard touchdown shifted all momentum over to the Higley side.
“I knew we were only up by one score and I knew the game wasn’t over by any means,” said Heywood, who had six receptions for 102 yards and two total touchdowns. “I knew I had to make a big play. It was the amazing blocking, the hole just opened up.”
Higley found a rhythm in all facets of the game, as its defense forced limited Campo Verde’s potent rushing attack while Millner continued to have success through the air. The junior connected with senior Logan Mack in the third, followed by Eastman and senior Zach Kriens, who is one of Higley’s star linebackers, on a 38-yard pass late in the fourth.
An 18-yard run by senior Peyton Hill capped off a 35-point second half for the Knights. Millner finished 19-of-27 for 285 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 58 yards while Hill had 88 yards of his own on the ground for a touchdown.
“We knew we had to put up a lot of points because Campo Verde is a very good team,” Millner said. “We wanted to bring energy and fight until the end. My line let me spread the ball around and my guys dug deep and came out here and balled.”
Campo Verde entered the matchup with Higley with its best start in program history, winning its first seven games of the season. Much of the Coyotes’ success was due in part of junior running back Caden Calloway, who had quickly elevated into becoming one of the top backs in the state.
Calloway found success on the ground throughout the first half, but it wasn’t until late in the third quarter he was able to break free for a 50-yard run. Most of Campo Verde’s offensive production came from the arm of Herrera, who was 12-of-24 for 220 yards and three touchdowns, two of which to McFarland.
“Every week (Herrera) has gotten better,” Campo Verde coach Max Ragsdale said. “We came into the year not knowing who our guy was going to be, but he took the job. We’ve given him more responsibility each week and we will continue to do that because he is able to handle it.”
The matchup against Higley was the first of three consecutive games facing some of the top teams in the 5A Conference. The Coyotes entered the week as the sixth-ranked team in the Open Division rankings but will now likely find themselves on the outside looking in when the new rankings are revealed on Tuesday.
But Ragsdale isn’t going to let the likelyhood of being eliminated from the Open conversation get the best of his team as Campo Verde (7-1, 2-1) prepares to take on Williams Field (6-2, 3-0) next Friday and Casteel to close out the season.
“We didn’t put the best version of our self out there and that was obvious,” Ragsdale said. “The Black Hawks don’t care that we didn’t execute. It’s time to go back to work tomorrow.”
The win for Higley (6-2, 3-0) marked the Knights’ sixth victory since starting the season 0-2. The Knights were the No. 15 team in the Open Division rankings heading into Friday night’s contest. But a win over a ranked team should move them up.
While it’s uncertain whether a two-loss team will be able to make the Open, the Knights plan to do what it takes to at least give themselves a chance starting next week against Gilbert (3-5, 0-3).
“Our goal was to go out and win everything and get into the Open,” Zubey said. “After starting 0-2 we didn’t really talk about getting into the Open as much as just keeping our focus and taking it week-by-week.
“Now we’ve won six straight and who knows where we will be when we are done.”
HHS 9 8 14 21 -- 52
CV 7 3 7 14 – 30
HHS – Millner 37 pass to Heywood, 9:43
CV – Herrera 31 pass to McFarland (Olayo kick), 5:18
HHS – Godinez 43 field goal, :04
CV – Olayo 36 field goal, 9:35
HHS – Millner 49 pass to Eastman (Purnell 2 run), 6:46
HHS – Heywood 86 kick return (Godinez kick), 11:48
HHS – Millner 16 pass to Mack (Godinez kick), 5:22
CV – Calloway 50 run (Olayo kick), 3:22
HHS – Millner 10 pass to Eastman (Godinez kick), 9:27
CV – Herrera 12 pass to McFarland (Olayo kick), 7:11
CV – Herrera 30 pass to Hutchens (Olayo kick), 5:18
HHS – Hill 18 run (Godinez kick), 2:50
HHS – Millner 38 pass to Kriens (Godinez kick), 2:09