Going into the fourth quarter of the NCS Division 2 championship game, it felt like Casa Grande was going to survive after a first half of missed opportunities caused by penalties and turnovers. That is because the Casa Grande defense, which wasn’t having its best game, was keeping their finger in the dike and was the reason the Gauchos carried a lead in the fourth quarter.
The dike broke in the fourth quarter when quarterback Drew Anderson capped a big night by throwing four of his five touchdown passes to rally Miramonte to a 41-27 win, to take the NCS Division 2 championship and hand Casa Grande its first and only loss of the season.
One of the four touchdowns came on the last play of the game and it might have had some kind of message about playing the game smart as well as good, which Miramonte did most of the night and Casa Grande only did at times.
On a fourth and six play which was the last play of the game, leading receiver Dominic Paoletti caught a 22 yard touchdown pass. It didn’t have to be the last play of the game but after he caught the ball at the one with about seven seconds left, he ran the length of the goal line to run out the clock before diving in the end zone.
So many times during the game Casa Grande looked like they were ready to make a move. But a penalty or a turnover stop the momentum.
The trend started almost immediately. That was after a promising start. Much was made during the week on how teams attempt onside kicks to try to keep the ball away from an explosive Miramonte offense that is averaging 40 points a game. Casa Grande has faith in its defense, so when they won the coin toss to start the game they deferred to the second half showing no fear in that offense.
It worked out as they forced a three and out punt. It was a bad punt which gave them the ball at the Miramonte 42. Four of the next five plays were runs by John Porchivina, the last going six yards for a touchdown and things were starting out like a normal Casa Grande game.
Unfortunately on the touchdown another normal trend lately happened is a penalty. An illegal formation wiped out the touchdown, the first of seven first half penalties which cost them 75 yards.
Still throughout the game they had a chance to make up for it and that would be the case here. After the penalty they had a first and goal at the 11. They moved it to a 4th and goal from the one which they decided to go for figuring if they didn’t get it, Miramonte would be backed up deep.
That isn’t the way it worked out. A missed connection on a handoff was fumbled and Miramonte recovered it and returned it to the 26 yard line.
So the first big moment went Miramonte’s way and two possessions later when they were forced to a 4th and 7 at the Casa Grande 41. They not only got a first down, but Anderson hit Will Fuller for the first score of the game.
The two teams traded touchdowns on the next two series, when the next big moment happened and again it didn’t go Casa Grande way. Once again it started out promising. After Miramonte connected on a 58 yard pass play, the Gaucho defense held them on a 4th and 5 from the 12.
Casa Grande then went on one of its best drives of the game moving to the Miramonte 10 yard line. Then another penalty popped up and worse yet on the next play an interception, so Miramonte kept a 14-7 halftime lead.
Things turned in the third quarter. Casa Grande took the first possession and drove right down the field running the ball on every play, five of the seven runs by Porchivina to the one yard line. With all the problems close, you still weren’t sure if they would push it across.
Disaster almost struck again when they fumbled the ball into the end zone and after a scramble for the first time it looked like it was going to be Casa Grande’s night when lineman Brendon Jackson fell on it to tie the game 14-14.
Things really looked good when after another long pass play, Casa Grande got its only turnover of the game when Miles Gardea intercepted a pass.
Casa Grande then looked like they were taking control like they have so many times during the season in a close game. They went on a 15 play-76 yard drive that took over six and a half minutes that ended on a Porchivina four yard run and with :13 left in the third quarter Casa Grande had their first lead of the game 21-14.
Next came the quarter from hell that ended Casa Grande’s season.
Anderson was already having a big game without the touchdowns. In the fourth quarter he added the touchdowns to it.
The big one was the second of the four touchdown quarter when Anderson hit his younger brother Ryan on an 81 yard bolt to make it 21-14 with 7:41 left.
To the Gauchos credit they did respond. JaJuan Lawson hit Brad Freitas on a 59 yard pass which set up a tying touchdown pass to Gardea with 6:16 left.
But the dam had been broken. After a big kickoff return, Miramonte drove 39 yards for touchdown pass number three of the quarter and four of the game with 2:20 left to take the lead for good.
That it took so long to mention Lawson tells you it wasn’t a typical Casa game. He did have respectable numbers throwing for 197 yards and rushing for 103. But he wasn’t the dominating presence and for the first time this season wasn’t the best quarterback on the field. That honor belonged to Anderson who ended the game 21 of 39 for 428 yards.
Casa Grande had one more chance. Lawson had his Joe Montana moment needing to drive Casa for the tying score 71 yards in two minutes. It came down to a 4th and 8 play in which he completed a pass for an apparent first down. The forward progress appeared to be stopped when there was a fumble. There was no whistle and Miramonte recovered. Casa Grande had only one time out left and its dream and historic season was over.
There will be a time in the future when Casa Grande will look back and remember the great season they had.
But that will take some time.
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