2A FOOTBALL: Santa Cruz to play Thatcher in semifinals
November 12, 2016 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365
Is Santa Cruz for real? Is Santa Cruz back?
Well, the Dust Devils are now 11-0 and headed for the 2A semifinals for the first time since 1990 after defeating Scottsdale Christian 62-21 on Saturday night. Coincidentally, 1990 was the last of a string of seven state championships for the program that sent four players to the NFL in its heyday - not bad for a town with a population nearing 15,000.
Seeded second in the 2A playoffs, Santa Cruz will face No. 3 Thatcher (10-2) next Saturday for a shot at another state championship. The two teams haven’t faced each other since the semifinals of that faithful year of 1990 (The Dust Devils won 42-0).
Likewise, Scottsdale Christian (10-3) took a major step forward this year under third-year coach Chuck Gibbs. The Eagles won ten games for the first time since the program made the shift from 8-man football to 2A and they did it after losing 16 seniors from a team that went 9-2 last year.
Five of the top six statistical leaders on offense were among those 17 and nine of the top defenders also graduated. Still, Gibbs was able to pull some magic out of his freshman quarterback Jack Miller (3,644 yards passing and 53 touchdowns and 800 yards rushing with 8 more TDs) to lead his team to a quarterfinal finish. Miller’s TD and yardage totals appear to be 2A state records.
“We returned only three starters on offense and three on defense,” Gibbs explained. “They just bought into our vision. Hats off to Santa Cruz. They are prepared to win and they are ready. We knew we had to execute against a big and fast team like this. We couldn’t make mistakes and we felt we could have went into the half tied but we made some mistakes in dropped balls and mistakes in tackling.”
The 21 points were the most given up by the Dust Devil defense this year but that was more than offset by the 62 points scored. It was the sixth time the program broke 60 points this year.
The two teams went back and forth early on with Devin Neal scoring from 8-yards out to give Santa Cruz an 8-0 lead after a 2-point conversion but Miller hit Jacob Kaites from 17 yards to cut the lead down to 8-7 with 9:12 left in the first quarter.
Santa Cruz responded with a 3-yard TD run by Neal to go up 14-7 (failed conversion) but Scottsdale Christian was forced to punt. Titarro Jones broke free for a 17-yard dash to put the Dust Devils up 22-7 and that’s how the quarter ended.
The Eagles fumbled the ball right back but the defense stopped Santa Cruz at the 2-yardline only to give up a safety on the very next play to make it 24-7. Jesus Cosillos dove over the pile a few minutes later and Santa Cruz was up 32-7. Scottsdale Christian just couldn’t keep up.
Miller finished with 149 yards passing and two touchdown passes, putting him in line for two state records in yardage in a season and TD passes in a season. At his rate, he could shatter several state records regardless of division but Santa Cruz had too many athletes on the field Saturday night including Neal.
Neal appears to fighting for the "Small School Player of the Year" this season. Neal finished with 234 yards rushing with TD runs of 8, 3, and 40 yards. He is approaching 1,500 yards rushing on the year.
“It’s been a great year for sure,” Neal said after the game. “But winning is just part of it. I’m having fun with all these guys, that’s the best part of it. I’m just running hard through holes the line opens up for me and our defensive line is stopping people also. Everyone is doing their job.”
His teammate, junior Titarro Jones, rushed for 106 yards and a TD and junior Raoul Perales had 73 yards on the ground. Senior QB Emilio Cosillos had 191 yards passing.