Maybe Zach Bennett didn’t have to work so hard this season, after all.
The senior running back who has broken more than a dozen school records during his prep career at Flagstaff’s Coconino High School failed to even reach the 100-yard rushing mark in last night’s play-in game for the 4A state tournament.
But his teammates picked up the slack as the third-seeded Panthers earned their place in the bracket set-up for the tournament by beating No. 14 Estrella Foothills HS, 35-22.
The win marks the first time in 20 years that a Coconino football team has notched a postseason win.
While Bennett managed just 77 yards rushing, there is no question that he has been the catalyst for Coconino’s undefeated (7-0) season. Bennett, who is also the team’s kickoff returner, came into the game with 1,090 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, even though it has been a season shortened by the Coronavirus.
To get the Panthers to the play-in game, Bennett contributed 165 yards on 29 carries to the 28-7 win over in-town rival Flagstaff High School last week. His rushing total, that included all four of the team’s four TDs, was more than what the entire Flagstaff team was able to compile.
That win against Flag gave Coconino its second straight Grand Canyon Region title.
But last night, Bennett had to step aside for awhile while he recovered from what turned out to be just a temporary shake-up in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Tyson Fousel was finishing an 82-yard rushing performance on the night, getting nine carries for his share of the offensive load (Bennett had 13), and Malcolm Morris added a couple of touchdowns rushing and another receiving.
And quarterback Ryan Seery enjoyed a career night, engineering a lethal passing attack for a team that normally relies heavily on the run. Seery finished the night 8-for-11 for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
Coconino ran up a 21-0 lead at halftime and its defense held Flagstaff scoreless through the first three quarters with a dominating performance that included three interceptions.
But it will be Bennett who will need to return to his dominating run game if Coconino is to advance in the playoffs. It would be only fitting for the youngster to get a few more games in this season, his final before heading off to college. He has done so much to bring his team to this point.
Last season he ran for 1,753 yards as he broke 10 school records in just that one season, averaging an astounding 159 yards per game. Over the last two years he has piled up 2,963 yards, and this season’s 1,167 has put him well over the 4.000-yard plateau — in just three seasons.
It will be a shame to see his final season come to an end. But how soon that happens will likely depend on which opponent the Panthers draw for next week’s playoff game.
Regardless of how many yards he picks up in that contest, Bennett has already earned a place among this state’s best high school runners ever.