Teams with early missteps now can say 'We believed!'

    As the high school football season begins winding down toward the
playoffs, it’s usually the time when teams that struggled early, or
stubbed their toe along the way, are able to finally say ‘We believed –
even when others didn’t’.  Here are some good examples from Week 9 of
Arizona high school competition:
    Fountain Hills HS (8-2) wins over undefeated (9-0) Empire HS(Tucson) 24-23. 
Fountain Hills lost its first two games of the season and since then
has had to prove it belonged with the better teams in 3A.  The win over
Empire earned the Falcons the South Region championship and guaranteed
a No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and the overtime victory against a
legitimate, ranked opponent added an exclamation mark!
   Mito Mendivil‘s
32-yard field goal for Empire sent the game into overtime, but Fountain
Hills came right back on the first series in overtime to score on Jacob Gouge‘s 10-yard scamper and a point-after kick by Jeremy Wakefield.  But the Ravens answered with their own touchdown by Cody Woody; a two-point conversion for the win failed. Fountain Hills QB Conner Brinton
had 165 total yards and gave his team the lead just before half time
with a 5-yard run.  Woody rushed 20 times for 74 total yards that
included an 80-yard kickoff return.
    Liberty HS upsets No. 5 Buckeye HS, 24-14
By beating Buckeye (7-2) and remaining undefeated, Liberty (9-0) put
aside for good the naysayers who have questioned whether the school, in
just its second year of varsity and first in region play, is actually
that good. Its next game, against Desert Edge HS, will give it a chance
to cap it all off with a region crown.
    With the game tied at 14 going into the final quarter, it was Conner McRae‘s field goal and QB Andre Gattie‘s
TD 32-yard run for a score that put the win away.  Garrie, a sophomore
who is starting for the first time this year, scored twice on the night
and finished with 127 yards.  The Lions’s top rusher, Dan Mihelich,
had been averaging over 200 yards a game, but could manage only 44 on
14 carries against a Buckeye defense that keyed on him all night.
    Buckeye did not lack for offense.  Senior QB Kody Karjala threw the ball all over the field, going 22-for-34 for 267 yards, and senior David Banks pulled in nine of those for 122 yards.  Senior Randy Hale
picked up 61 yards on seven passes from Karjala and then added 35 yards
of rushing, including the one-yard dive into the end zone that tied the
game 14-14.
    Williams Field HS drops Coronado HS, 20-16
This is another case of the new kid on the block having to prove itself
game after game.  This win keeps Williams Field undefeated (9-0), nets
a victory against a good squad in 6-3 Coronado, and sets up a chance to
cop the East Sky Region title with a win next week against Arcadia.  To
top it off, Williams Field played without a couple of key players –
receiver Aaron Hill and running back Alex Howard, both sidelined with injuries.
    The Black Hawks also showed they could play under pressure, scoring on a 18-yard pass from QB Tom Ross to J.D. Layton
with 14.6 seconds left on the clock.  Layton had five catches for 88
yards for the night; teammate Nick Gaylord pulled down a couple more
for 34 yards. Running back Brandon Warren had 64 of the team’s total 98
rushing yards.
    Coronado’s Shawn Martin accounted for 40 hard-earned yards, averaging just over two yards per carry.  The Dons had a game-total 119 yards.
    Scottsdale Christian overpowers Northwest Christian, 36-17
The Eagles needed a win like this to show that they could grind it out
with the better teams.   They did it in a big way by handing Northwest
Christian (8-1) its first loss of the season and ending the regular
season on a huge lift into the playoffs.  The win gave them a share of
the 2A Central Region crown.
    Jenson Cruse
carried the Eagles to the upset, carrying 23 times and running up 234
yards of the team’s 305 total yards, including two second-half TDs.
Northwest’s QB Nathan La Barbera threw for 261 yards.  Scottsdale Christian’s Adam Siwek had an interception on defense and a score on offense, pulling in a 20-yard pass from QB Miller Bentley for the first score of the game.  Miller finished 3-of-9 for the night, for 74 yards in the air.
    Independence HS upsets Apollo HS, 31-14
Here’s another case of beating an undefeated team to validate your
season.  Independence was god off to a miserable 1-4 and was just 4-4
going into the contest with 8-0 Apollo.  Combined with an upset of
Prescott HS the week before, the win gave Independence the 4A Western
Sky Region title.
    Independence came out firing, taking a 21-0 lead after QB Tyler Peoples found Tyler Vache in the end zone for a 25-yard score to open the game, followed by an interception by Victor White that he returned 80 yards for the score.  Peoples scored again for a 21-0 lead that was to big a mountain for Apollo to climb.