Ben Walker made two huge plays, while quarterback Cody Cropp saved his best for last and Pusch Ridge advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history with a 13-10 win over River Valley in the second round of the Division IV state playoffs.
Cropp roamed the sidelines after River Valley tied things up at 7-7 saying, “We wanted a good game, we wanted to play in a good game.” While after the game he admitted a hint of sarcasm to the comments, he got his wish. The battle between his Lions and the Dust Devils went down to the last play. In fact, River Valley wound up getting two untimed downs after regulation ended.
River Valley missed a 45-yard field goal, giving the Lions the ball at the 20-yard line with just 1:50 to play and trailing 10-7. The game would be decided on the arm of senior quarterback Cody Cropp. Cropp, who had thrown three interceptions, put the negative plays behind him and went to work.
Two of his first three passes were dropped, but on fourth and four he found Walker for a nine-yard completion. Matthew McLeod then hauled in a 22-yard reception to get the Lions into Dust Devil territory. Cropp found Isaiah Lovett on a nine-yard gain, but the Lions wasted almost 30 seconds getting the next play off.
Three plays later, the Lions faced second and 10 from the 30, with just 26 seconds left. Cropp lofted a high pass to the corner of the end zone, the ball got tipped by a defender but Walker located the ball and leaped to grab it. He bobbled it a few times on his way down but secured the ball for the score.
“It felt like I was bobbling the ball for at least 30 seconds,” said Walker.
The Lions missed the extra point, leaving the Dust Devils with a slim hope, but they had just 20 seconds left and no timeouts to get into field goal range.
The game looked over when Dust Devil quarterback scrambled and ran out of bounds near the 45-yard line, but left just six seconds on the clock.
The Dust Devils used the halfback option and the Lions intercepted the ball, but were flagged for pass interference and the game was extended by one play. Another long pass drew a second pass interference on the Lions and that gave River Valley an opportunity for a 45-yard field goal.
Although their last kick was missed, the Dust Devils had previously connected on two long field goals, so this was clearly in their range. Walker decided not to let them find out. He found a gap in the middle of the line and the 6-4 Walker got a hand on the ball, ending the game.
Cropp was 17-of-27 for 202 yards and two scores. He was 6-of-10 for 80 yards on the final drive. Walker grabbed four balls for 94 yards.
The game was a defensive battle marred by penalties. The Lions finally broke through midway the third quarter when two personal foul penalties gave the Lions great field position and Lovett hauled in a high pass for a 21-yard score.
Marcos de Niza 35, Ironwood Ridge 15
Ironwood Ridge was able to overcome the injury bug a week ago and hang on to beat a pesky Sunnyside team. Marcos de Niza was another story as the Padres had too much talent and beat the host Nighthawks 35-15.
An already dinged up Ironwood Ridge squad lost defensive lineman Chase Laurita on the first drive of the game and that put a huge wrench in the Nighthawks’ defensive game plan.
“Our game plan was kind of based on him on the defensive line,” said Ironwood Ridge Head Coach Matt Johnson. “Without him it was not much of a game plan. We had structural issues. The kids did a great job, they busted their butt, they tried to respond.”
Johnson said the team was missing six starters.
Already leading 7-0, the Padres recovered a fumble near midfield but soon faced a fourth and 16 but Anthony Trujillo hauled in a 36-yard pass over the middle to get the Padres down to the Nighthawk three and on the next play Shaun Richards scored to put Marcos de Niza up 14-0.
The Padres were able to run on the Nighthawks all night long. Marcos de Niza rushed for 330 yards, getting 148 from Avery Sanders. Marcus Naisant added 75. All five Padre scores came on the ground.
In their previous meeting the Nighthawks came from behind in the second half. Although a victory was not in the cards, Ironwood Ridge finally found some of its offense in the fourth quarter.
Down 28-0, the Nighthawks converted on a fourth down in Padre territory and three plays later Cole Gerken found Harrison Beemiller on a 27-yard touchdown pass.
The Padres did a nice job containing the versatile Beemiller. He had just 61 yards of total offense.
In general, Marcos de Niza did a good job keeping the Nighthawk offense in check. Gerken was an efficient 7-of-11 for 144 yards, but 80 yards came on the Nighthawks’ two scoring plays.
Ironwood Ridge closed out the scoring when Gerken found Michael Ayers down field. Ayers made a defender miss and then outraced two more Padres for a 53-yard score.
The Nighthawks fell to 9-3.
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