Coconino football's 27-0 Homecoming victory over Lee Williams was extra special.
Zach Bennett ran for 215 yards and two rushing touchdowns, Jordan Lucero threw for two scores on 3-of-4 passing and the No. 11 Panthers beat the 26th-ranked Volunteers in Cromer Stadium on Friday, claiming the Grand Canyon Region title with the victory and a spot in the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
Coconino (8-0, 5-0 Grand Canyon) finished with a nice mix of production from the air and ground games, including some key plays from special teams on the way to putting Lee Williams (3-4, 1-3 Grand Canyon) on its first losing skid of the season. Lucero had 85 yards passing, five yards shy of his career high.
"It's something special. These guys have worked so hard," Panthers first-year head coach Mike Lapsley said when asked about making the 4A Conference postseason. "This all started in January and these guys, they know it's a grind. But they've embraced it and actually started to enjoy the grind -- which has been a big contributor to our success."
Bennett's second touchdown of the night ended a 10-play drive that started the second half and ate up seven minutes of the clock. The junior punched it in from a foot out, giving his team a 19-0 lead and helping to set the tone of the second half. It was Bennett's second 200-yard game of the season.
"That's our game, so when we drove and pushed off that time, it's how our offense works. When we punched that one in, we knew we were on track and were going to move forward for the rest of the half," Lapsley said.
Despite special teams struggling to add points after TDs, it found other ways to produce, setting up the Panthers' first scoring effort with a blocked punt that was recovered by Timothy Rodriguez and putting the game's final points on the scoreboard on a safety during a Lee Williams punt attempt deep in its own territory.
After the blocked punt in the first half, Bennett went for a 45-yard trip into the end zone on the first touch of the possession, and Coconino took a 7-0 lead with 8:24 to play in the opening 12 minutes.
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The Panthers put together a long scoring drive in the second quarter that started on their own 8-yard line with 7:15 on the clock. The drive ended with less than two minutes to go when Lucero hit a falling Jonathan Jaramillo for a 19-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-5 situation.
By halftime, Coconino's time of possession was 12:47, while Lee Williams was at 13:11. The Panthers simply made better use of their time before the break, collecting 196 yards while limiting the Volunteers, who were shut out for a second straight Friday, to 54.
Coconino's offensive line was without Riley Darnell, who missed the game due to suffering a spider bite. Still, the second half went well for the Panthers, who ended with 423 total yards of offense to Lee Williams' 66.
The Panthers had chances in the second half to do more damage, but a fumble put an end to a long drive on their second possession out of the halftime gates and a Kyle Casados -- the Homecoming King for CHS -- long punt return was called back on a penalty not long afterward.
But Coconino kept its focus despite the miscues in the second half, making it 25-0 when Lucero connected with Bailey McCauslin for a 28-yard TD with 5:10 to play. The 2-point conversion failed afterward. McCauslin ended his night with two receptions and 63 yards receiving -- a career-high total.
"Nice knowing we can do both and to know we can keep pounding the rock and go to passing if we get stopped," McCauslin said.
While a spot in the postseason is guaranteed, home-field advantage is not, making next week's 7 p.m. game against ninth-ranked Cactus (6-2) in Cromer another big game.
"It was really a team effort," McCauslin said of earning the playoff spot. "We go to work every day together, so it feels really good to accomplish this together."