The Coconino Panthers had no problems playing catch-up for the first time this season.
Zach Bennett ran for three touchdowns and 180 yards, Dawson Buckley added two scores on the ground, and the Panthers overcame an early 12-point deficit to hand the Mingus Union Marauders their second straight loss Friday, 42-40, and improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1992.
Bennett, who ran for scores of 5, 1 and 41 yards, made a gutsy decision in the fourth quarter with his team down 34-28 when he took a punt snap that sailed high and ran for a first down, giving his team the opportunity it needed to retake the lead and hold on against the Marauders, who fell to 3-2 on the loss at Cromer Stadium.
It's Coconino's first win over Mingus since 2011, and it came in the team's 4A Conference Grand Canyon Region opener.
After Bennett turned the punt snap into a first down at the Mingus 30-yard line, he continued to grind down toward the end zone. Seven yards out on third down, Panthers quarterback Ty Furr punched it in and gave his team its second lead of the night at 35-34.
"It wasn't planned. It was a high snap, so I just took it and ran with it, and it turned out to be a good play," Bennett said.
Panthers head coach Mike Moran, who in his first year was taking on Mingus Union's first-year head coach, said he has nothing but trust in his sophomore stud.
"Early in the season, I knew he would be a punter, I've been working with him every day, and I tell you, I tell him, 'Zach, if you think you can go, that's a moment decision, you make that decision.'"
The Marauders, missing their leading rusher due to a suspension as a result of kicking a player in a 36-26 loss last week to Seton Catholic Prep, came out heavily using the arm of quarterback Antoine Zabala, who threw for 198 yards and two TD passes.
Mingus jumped out to the 12-0 lead with 7:37 on the clock in the first quarter, but Coconino scored 28 unanswered points, starting with a Buckley trip across the goal line from seven yards out.
Both teams ended the night with two turnovers.
Coconino's Manuel Cordoza intercepted Zabala not long after Buckley got the Panthers on the board, putting his team at the Mingus 23. From there, Coconino, winning the time of possession game by nearly 10 minutes, steadily worked its way to the end zone, with Bennett collecting his first score of the night from five yards out, providing Coconino its first lead at 14-12 with 9:50 to go before halftime.
Buckley charged in from six yards out just four minutes later, Kyle Sauer recovered a Mingus fumble and Bennett would turn it into a 28-12 lead with 2:37 on the clock.
Buckley ended his night with 71 yards on 15 touches, doing much of his work up the middle against a loaded box, and helping to create outside opportunities on the right side for Bennett when Mingus was lulled to sleep gumming up the middle.
Furr, who carried the ball seven times for 20 yards and the score, fumbled on the opening drive, and later a transfer to a runner went bad and resulted in another fumble just before halftime. Joe Machado picked up the dropped handoff and ran it in from 46 yards out and gave his team some life heading into the break down 28-26 as Mingus went on a quick 12-0 run in the final two minutes.
Ahead 41-34 after Bennett's third trip into the end zone, Mingus dug deep, but Coconino's defense dug deeper.
Mingus got a rushing touchdown with six minutes of game left to get within two at 42-40. The Marauders tried to even it up with a two-point conversion, but Aaron Avitia, Coconino's leading tackler heading into Friday, made sure that didn't happen.
"I think the defense was really key in this game, it really was," Moran said.
Mingus went for the win after forcing a 3-and-out on Coconino's ensuing drive, taking possession with four minutes remaining in the barn burner from its own 17-yard line. On 4th-and-10 with 1:13 to go, and after three pass attempts, Cayden Fordyce hit Zabala while he released and the ball fell into the open flat, and Coconino took over for the victory.
It was Bennett's second straight game with three rushing TDs.
"We came out flat, so we talked about that at halftime, and tried to come out pumped up," Bennett said.
The Panthers remain at home next week and take on Grand Canyon foe Bradshaw Mountain Bears, who improved to 5-0 with their 44-12 region-opening win over Lee Williams.