Williams Field tight end Joshua Gale dropped to his knees and sobbed before burying his face into his helmet near midfield at Sun Devil Stadium.
Gale, a senior, couldn’t contain his emotions as his teammates stormed the field to celebrate their 19-0 win over region foe Campo Verde in the 5A Conference championship game. But his tears quickly turned to laughs when he and the rest of the Williams Field team hoisted the trophy.
“My emotion just overwhelmed me, and I dropped to my knees,” Gale said. “This is the happiest I’ve been in my life. Just being able to finally kiss the trophy, it’s special.”
Gale caught one of Williams Field’s only three touchdowns on the day, an 80-yard pass from senior quarterback Mason Bugg in the second quarter to extend the Black Hawks’ lead to 13 before the half.
It was the first of two touchdowns for Bugg, who finished 13-of-24 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Bugg’s second touchdown pass came in the fourth quarter to junior Myles Taylor for 46 yards.
“It was just pitch-and-catch with my guy, he did the work,” Bugg said of the 80-yard touchdown to Gale. “I don’t think this win had anything to do with me. It was the guys up front, running backs and receivers. It was all them. I couldn’t be more happy for my team.”
Despite racking up 323 total yards of offense, the Black Hawks struggled to find a consistent rhythm. Campo Verde’s defense limited the rushing duo of sophomore Kaden Cloud and Kendrix Lurry – two 1,000-yard rushers – to 74 total yards. Cloud managed to find the end zone on an 8-yard run early in the first quarter.
“It was definitely a grind today,” Williams Field coach Steve Campbell said. “But in a championship game that’s kind of how you expect it to be with all of the emotions and having a week off. There’s just so much involved in it.”
Campo Verde’s defense, while undersized compared to Williams Field’s offensive line, held their own in the trenches. Led by senior defensive tackle Xavier Tauasosi and the linebacking corps of senior linebacker Jayden Fletcher and junior Mark Liano, Campo Verde pressured Bugg throughout the duration of the game.
Tauasosi had two of Campo Verde’s five sacks, along with several hurries. It was the stout defensive play by the Coyotes that kept them in the contest throughout, but the offense struggled.
“They’re the epitome of what we are, we preach good defense all the time,” Campo Verde coach Max Ragsdale said. “They played team defense. Everybody has each other’s back. It isn’t about individual play with our defense.”
Campo Verde senior quarterback Zach Herrera, who had come on strong as of late throughout the playoffs, had a hard time escaping pressure of his own from the Williams Field defense. He completed 12 of his 34 pass attempts for 105 yards, putting the ball only where his receivers could get to it to avoid turnovers.
The Coyotes were without their top running back in junior Caden Calloway, who ran for 1,739 yards before breaking his right leg in the semifinals against Notre Dame Prep. In his place was his sophomore brother, Connor, a 6-foot, 185-pound back who ran for 97 yards on 19 carries in his first start.
He helped lead Campo Verde down the field late in the second quarter, where Herrera found senior wideout Ryan Hutches in the back-corner of the end zone. Hutchens, one of the Coyotes’ top receivers alongside fellow senior Danny McFarland, made the catch in double coverage and appeared to have gotten his left foot down but was ruled out of bounds.
Campo Verde was forced to kick a field goal after the third-down play but missed wide right. Two plays later, Williams Field capitalized with the 80-yard touchdown from Bugg to Gale.
“I still think our defense is one of the best in the country,” Fletcher said. “We held Williams Field to 19 points, which is a big accomplishment. We were in the championship when nobody thought we would be here.”
Aside from the long drive in the first quarter, they played stout on defense, forcing several turnovers on downs for Williams Field. The Black Hawks converted just five of their 15 third-down attempts and were 0-of-2 on fourth down.
The loss in the championship game caps off the best season in Campo Verde history. The Coyotes have never made it this far in the postseason in their 9-years playing at the varsity level.
“They validated our process,” Ragsdale said. “We can point to those guys all the time and show that it doesn’t take four or five-star talent to be successful. It takes people playing together as a team and these senior displayed that and set a great example for our classes to come.”
Despite struggling on offense, Williams Field’s defense did what it needed to for the Black Hawks to win their second title in four years. Campo Verde was held to 195 yards of total offense and lost a fumble early in the first quarter.
Late in the fourth quarter with Campo Verde driving, Herrera rolled right out of the pocket and heaved it toward the end zone toward Hutchens. Senior cornerback Brady Medina got out in front to make a diving interception in the end zone to force Campo Verde’s second turnover of the game.
The interceptions helped Williams Field complete the shutout in the championship, something that hadn’t previously been done in a 5A title game since Centennial did it in 2006. It also secured the Black Hawks’ 33rd straight victory over opponents in the 5A San Tan Region.
“It’s kind of a sigh of relief,” Campbell said. “It’s a four-quarter game with a lot of emotions. It’s kind of like, ‘alright, there we go.’
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling to look at these kids celebrating.”