Despite coughing up possession not long before, Luke Canizales made a miracle return to keep his team near the 4A Conference playoff bubble.
Just one drive after he fumbled inside Seton Catholic territory, watching his opponent return the ball nearly 80 yards for a go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter, Canizales fielded a punt 80 yards out and took it the end zone for what resulted as the game-winning touchdown, and the No. 24 Eagles knocked off the No. 14 Sentinels, 27-24, at home Friday in the Walkup Skydome.
“I’m speechless right now,” Canizales said after embracing family members following the win. “I’m crying happy tears right now; so many emotions going through my head. It’s just so crazy and I’m so proud of my team, they never looked down on me, they just picked me up after that fumble. So a lot of this goes out to them.”
To make it even better, the upperclassman came up big on Senior Day.
“It means so much more,” Canizales said. “It was just one heck of a fight tonight, that’s the only way I can put it.”
The Eagles improved to 5-3 overall -- two wins better than last season’s mark of 3-7 -- with two games remaining in the regular season.
Even though it was Canizales’ miracle return that ended as the deciding score, the Eagles’ defense had to get just one more stop with the clock ticking down.
Seton Catholic (5-3) marched down the field after taking over on downs on its own side of the field in the final three minutes of the game, gashing the Eagles with multiple big gains. Facing a third-and-short at the Flagstaff 20-yard line, the Sentinels were stuffed at the line by a host of defenders.
Eagles head coach Todd Hanley had all the confidence in his team’s defense heading into the critical fourth-down play.
“Our defense, as usual, we need them, they’re there,” Hanley said. “ … That’s a good football team. Credit to our kids because that takes guts to stop that right there. Against Mohave we couldn’t stop it. Our kids could have said, 'Uh oh,' but they didn’t.”
The Eagles nearly picked off Seton quarterback Joey LaLicata on the final play, effectively ending the game as the Sentinels had burned their timeouts on the drive.
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Eagles quarterback Joe Weidinger threw three touchdowns on 4-of-15 passing, along with one interception. Jace Weztel hauled in two of those touchdowns in the third quarter while Luis Jaramillo snagged the other in the first half.
Flagstaff travels to Cottonwood to face winless Mingus Union (0-8, 0-4 Grand Canyon) next week.
HORNETS 54 SAND DEVILS 52, 3OT
Page and Ganado played to a three-overtime thriller Friday night, with the Hornets coming out on top 54-52.
Page saw its 15-game winning streak against 3A North rivals end but produced a courageous effort after rallying from a 26-6 deficit. The Sand Devils (2-6, 2-1 North Region) staged two goal-line stands. One of them sent the game into overtime.
The three-plus-hour contest ended with Ganado improving its record to 5-2-1, 3-0 in the North Region,
Ganado entered halftime with a 20-6 lead. Running back Tony Shirley topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 165 yards at the break and Michael James had collected three of his four TD passes from Elton Kirk.
The Hornets seemed to have it locked up when Shirley took the second-half kickoff 85 yards for the 26-6 lead. But Page senior Gabe Gomez went 60 yards on the Sand Devils’ next play, and early in the fourth quarter, Page recorded a big defensive stop, turning Ganado over on downs at the 3.
The Sand Devils answered with a 97-yard drive ending in a 22-yard pass play from Robert Smith to Hunter Richardson to draw within eight at 26-18. Smith scored from 17 yards out and hit Yazzie for the tying PAT at 32-32 with five minutes left.
Ganado had a first down at the Page 8-yard line and ran Shirley four straight times. The Page defense held as time ran out. The teams matched scores in both overtimes. Smith had kept Page alive with a dive into the end zone on fourth down of the second possession. But the stop on Yazzie handed Page its first draw since a 41-41 tie with Cedar City (Utah) in 1999.
Page stays home next week to host another region opponent, the Chinle Wildcats, at 7 p.m.