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D-IV Football: Pusch Ridge beats River Valley 13-10

November 14, 2015 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

They say defenders never get called for pass interference penalties with no time on the clock but No. 3 Pusch Ridge was flagged twice in that very situation to give No. 6 River Valley two untimed plays when they were down 13-10.

With the ball moved from their own 43-yard line to the opposite 28, the Dust Devils attempted a 45-yard kick that would have sent the game to overtime but 6-foot-4 Ben Walker came up the middle and knocked the ball away to preserve the win for the Lions.

Pusch Ridge advances to the first semifinal game in school history thanks to an improbable flurry of plays and penalties that turned an average encounter into a game that will be long remembered.

The Lions competed in Division V last year and made it to the second round where they were plastered by Yuma Catholic 49-7 but realignment actually moved Pusch Ridge up one division this year and the prospects for success did not look good.

Conversely, River Valley was the Division IV state champion last year but the Dust Devils also had a few question marks thanks to the graduations of Brandon Long (2,302 yards rushing and 523 receiving) and QB Brady Viles (1,770 yards passing).

Still, the Dust Devils remained in D-IV and succeeded with a 10-2 record and came within 30 seconds of a semifinal appearance.

Then came Pusch Ridge.

The Lions lost to D-V power Benson 28-14 to open up their new season but 10 straight wins set up their quarterfinal match against River Valley Saturday night.

While big plays and penalties characterized the fourth quarter of the game, the first three were best described as, "punts and penalties."

The two teams combined for nine punts before the first points were put on the scoreboard but Pusch Ridge had a chance to strike much earlier thanks to a fumbled punt attempt by River Valley with 2:35 left in the first.

The ball was recovered at the 24 but a facemask, two holding penalties and two sacks saw had the Lions facing a 4th-and-31 at their own 39. Punt.

Luis Castro came up with an interception with 3:33 left in the second quarter to turn Pusch Ridge back on another scoring opportunity and he came down with his second pick two minutes later to end another.

Pusch Ridge had another chance to score but a 25-yard field goal attempt was missed midway through the third quarter.

Then came Walker.

One of the best receivers in the state, Walker inexplicably only had 20 receptions and 387 yards receiving coming into Saturday night. But he let defenders know he is still a threat.

Facing a long third down, Cody Cropp hit Walker on a 30-yard strike to help set up the first scoring drive of the game with Cropp hitting Tamerat McLeod from 23 yards out two plays later.

Each team took turns punting again but River Valley tied things up with 8:55 left in the fourth on a 31-yard strike from Ryan Economou to Jesse Bravin. There was a penalty that moved the extra point out but Bryson Fohs connected on the 35-yard attempt.

Tyler Garringer came up with the third interception of the game and River Valley was back in business with 7:15 left. The drive would stall but Fohs made a 43-yard kick to give the Dust Devils a 10-7 lead with 5:40 left.

Pusch Ridge faced a long 4th down at their own 20 and a failed fake punt gave River Valley the ball back with 2:28 left. Pusch Ridge held River Valley in check and the Dust Devils missed on a 45-yard kick with 1:47 left in the game.

Cropp face a 4th down at his own 26 but Walker came down with a 9-yard reception to keep the drive going then McLeod caught a 22-yard pass to move the ball into River Valley territory with about 40 seconds left.

Edwin Lovett pulled down the next pass and the Lions were at the 34 with 33 seconds left. A short pass to Blake Reilly placed the ball at the 30 and then Cropp grounded the ball to stop the clock.

Coaches practice the tip drill for a reason. You never know.

Cropp threw the ball 32 yards in the air but Walker was already halfway through the endzone by the time the ball came down. What looked like another interception turned Walker into a legend.

"I told the coaches to just put it up for me and they believed in me," Walker said about what happened next. "I saw it go off the defender's hands so I turned back and grabbed it."

Walker bobbled the ball but he was able to cradle it before he stepped out of bounds. But, the extra point was missed and River Valley had another chance with 20 seconds left.

Then came Walker.

The blocked kick set up a semifinal match against No. 7 Lake Havasu next Saturday at Arcadia High School. Game time is set for 2 p.m. and will be streamed live on the NFHS Network.

Lake Havasu (11-1) upset No. 2 Show Low 34-27. This is the Knights' best record in school history although the 8-3 team of 1974 finished in second palce to the old Gerard Catholic High School by a score of 12-10. Gerard was opened in 1962 but was closed in 1989. Seton Catholic inherited the Recoat's sports trophies.