The season ended for the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions on Friday night, when a cold wind blowing from the mountains sent a chill through the bundled crowd.
Unfortunately for the 7-3 Lions, the temperature did nothing to freeze the physical offensive attack of Camp Verde High School.
The Cowboys’ (6-5) bruising ground game chipped away at the Lions’ defense, eventually leading Camp Verde to a 23-13 victory in 2A playoff football and ending Pusch Ridge’s win streak at seven games.
The Cowboys finished the game with 428 total yards, boasting two 100-yard rushers and 274 on the ground.
“They just sort of started to wear us down,” said Pusch Ridge head coach Bob Vance.
According to Vance, the early loss of sophomore cornerback Tyler Goodwillie compromised the Lions’ ability to stop the run.
“If you look, they kept running where he would’ve been, and we missed him badly,” said Vance. “We knew Camp Verde was a big, strong team, they come to hit. We did too, but they just outhit us.”
Mistakes plagued the Lions, especially on special teams, including a long snap over senior punter Joey Degroff’s head that resulted in a safety for the Cowboys.
After the half, Pusch Ridge seemed ready to put the demons of the first two quarters to rest. The Lions roared out on a long touchdown drive headed by junior quarterback Greg Schimke and highlighted by an 18-yard completion to senior tight end Dawson Jones, a 17-yard run by senior running back Mike Baquet, and capped with a 5-yard touchdown run by junior running back Brent Overstreet.
After that drive, it was all Camp Verde. The Cowboys scored their safety and another touchdown to take a 23-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Another long pass to a wide open Jones would give Pusch Ridge a final score late, but a subsequent long drive by Camp Verde extinguished any hope of a comeback.
Despite the early playoff exit, first-year coach Vance was thankful for a team that made his initial foray into the top varsity spot a memorable one.
“It was just an awesome year,” said Vance with an emotional smile. There were “so many bright spots.”
Players were the story of the 2008 season, Vance said.
“We had new guys like (senior wide receiver) Daniel Vavrusa from the Czech Republic playing football for the first time, making touchdowns and contributing to the team, young guys coming up and doing so much,” said Vance. “Our old guys like (senior linebacker) Matt Baquet, playing his heart out all year long, and (senior offensive lineman) David Bergeron.”
As for 2009, Vance is excited about the prospects his Lions have in the wings.
“Goodwillie played with so much heart all year long as a sophomore, he’ll be ready next year,” said Vance. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys, a lot of juniors and sophomores coming up, we’re going to be tough again next year.”
Vance already has the 2009 postseason in mind.
“We’ll be back in the playoffs next year,” said Vance. “And we’re going to go farther.”