Ka’Deem Carey may have still been a little wobbly in the knees, but he and the 13-0 Canyon Del Oro Dorados displayed the hearts of champions in a 28-24 semi-final football win over Cienega on Friday night at Tucson High.
Carey rushed for 148 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, while playing with a tender hamstring he had tweaked a week earlier.
The come-from-behind victory propelled the Dorados into the state championship game against the Scottsdale Saguaro Sabercats (11-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.
CDO, winning its 27th consecutive game over two years, was outplayed for 44 minutes by the Bobcats. The Dorados actually trailed 14-7 after three quarters, their first deficit entering a fourth period during this unblemished two-year run under coach Dustin Peace.
“We’re not built to come from behind,” Peace said. “They’re (Cienega) a great team. Probably the best Cienega team we’ve played since I’ve been here.”
After Cienega’s Willie Willis ran 74 yards for a touchdown, the Bobcats led 24-14 with less than four minutes to play. Dorado fans could be excused for feeling like the streak was over, that the end was near. The atmosphere was one of resignation. It felt like CDO was done.
Peace had noted the greatness of the opposition, and perhaps the Bobcats really were the better team. After all, Willis gained 134 yards rushing with two touchdowns. Bobcats quarterback Jordan Mills passed for 168 yards, and the Cienega defense had picked off CDO’s Jason McBrayer three times. Carey, up to that point, had been held to 96 yards.
“You had to be worried,” Carey said.
Then it all changed.
McBrayer completed a pass to running back Quintin Kime, who went 66 yards to the Bobcats five-yard line. Carey ran it in for his first touchdown of the night. After the conversion by Tilghman Harvey, the Dorados trailed 24-21 with 2:47 to play.
After the score, Carey went back to the stationary bicycle he had been riding at different times while CDO was on defense. Next, it was up to the special teams. Peace opted for the onside kick.
Harvey did the kicking, and Cooper Smith made the recovery, giving the Dorados possession.
After a couple of carries, Carey picked up a first down at the Cienega 36-yard line. On the next play, it looked like he’d go all the way, as he raced 25 yards to the 11. The Dorados were certainly within field goal range for Harvey.
Earlier in the game, CDO had passed up a possible field goal attempt, and was stopped on a fourth and four. “The play was there,” Peace said. “We had an exchange problem.”
In a similar position, but with time running out, what about a field goal to tie it at 24?
“I wasn’t for it,” said Carey. “No field goal for us. The whole state is depending on you.”
On third-and-seven at the Bobcat eight, Carey’s will and determination took him in, as he drove in for the touchdown. The Dorados had their first lead of the night, 28-24 with 38 seconds left.
The Bobcats were unable to gain a first down. CDO had another berth in the state title game.
Just like last year’s playoff matchup, Cienega’s defense shut down the Dorados for a half. In last year’s semi-final game, the Bobcats led 3-0 at the half before the Dorados erupted.
This time, the Bobcats opened the scoring on a six-yard touchdown pass by Mills in the second quarter. On their final possession of the half, McBrayer burst loose for 27 yards to the Cienega 13-yard line. With less than 20 seconds before halftime, McBrayer found leading receiver Blake Martinez for a 15-yard touchdown pass and a 7-7 tie.
With Carey hurting, Martinez was primed to be a big-play threat for the Dorados. Martinez spent most of the night enduring blanket coverage, virtually every time McBrayer targeted him. He still caught four passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
Martinez said he got used to the tight coverage, a few times looking like possible pass interference, and just needed to focus on catching the balls.
“That’s the best game I’ve ever been in,” Martinez said. ”We finished it as a team.”
Carey understood the importance.
“We needed that,” Carey said. “It was no going home.”
Saguaro, CDO in a powerhouse battle
Canyon del Oro faces a familiar foe in Saturday’s 4A-1 state championship football game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
Scottsdale Saguaro, 11-2 on the season, has already proven itself competitive with the Dorados. Earlier this season, CDO traveled to Scottsdale Saguaro and defeated the Sabercats, 33-25.
Quarterback Teddy Ruben burned the Dorados defense for 252 yards passing on 15 of 23 completions, and also ran for 205 yards. During the year, Ruben had 2,235 yards passing and 2,346 yards rushing. Completing 71 percent of his passes, Ruben threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for 30 more.
Running back D.J. Foster led Sabercat running backs with 1,297 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 11.4 yards per carry.
Who was the last team to win a state title, before CDO? Scottsdale Saguaro in 2008. The Sabercats are currently ranked sixth in Arizona, while CDO is third, behind unbeaten Hamilton and Chapparal.
“We need to get our heads straight,” said Blake Martinez, the stalwart linebacker and receiver for the Dorados.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m. Saturday.