Unable to keep up with the Cactus Cobras in the second half, the Coconino Panthers fell short of in an upset attempt in Glendale on Friday, 32-21.
Battling to keep their playoff hopes alive, the 17th-ranked Panthers (6-3, 3-2 Grand Canyon Region) took a 21-14 lead into halftime thanks to Dawson Buckley running hard against the No. 6 Cobras (7-2, 2-1 West Valley) in the non-region matchup between the the two 4A Conference teams.
Buckley recorded back-to-back rushing touchdowns, a 16-yarder to start the scoring and a 4-yard trip into the end zone to get his team its second lead of the night. He had more than 60 rushing yards in the first half and ended his night with about 160 total.
The rest of the Coconino run game was stymied, as Zach Bennett was held to his lowest production of the season at 39 yards. The Panthers, who went scoreless in the second half while Cactus pulled away, ended the night with 250 total yards of offense to the Cobras' 393.
Before the break, the Panthers defense held the Cobras to 0-2 on fourth-down conversions, broke up a two-point conversion attempt and limited the passing attack to 2 of 8. Cactus ended up going 1 for 5 on two-point conversion attempts for the game.
Panthers quarterback Ty Furr also had a rushing TD that came in the second quarter to make it a 21-14 game in favor of Coconino. Buckley's second TD of the night gave Coconino back the lead at 14-8 after Cactus made it 8-7 in its favor in the first quarter on a rushing TD.
A costly fourth-quarter mistake hurt Coconino. The marching Panthers saw a 16-play drive come to a stop on fourth-and-22 play when Furr threw a pick trying to keep the ball in his team's possession. Cactus capitalized on the turnover, turning it into an 80-yard TD throw and a 26-21 lead.
Cactus struggled to get its dangerous pass attack going in the opening half, but took its second and final lead of the night on two straight passing scores, with one in third third quarter and another in the fourth off the Furr interception.
The Cobras tacked on another score via the run in the waning seconds of the game, snapping Coconino's two-game win streak.
Coconino hosts Flagstaff for the 50th meeting between the crosstown rivals next week for a 7 p.m. game in Cromer Stadium.
"We played a great game," Panthers first-year head coach Mike Moran said. "We've come a long way and we are proud of what we did."
SAND DEVILS 64, WILDCATS 7
Kele Meredith ran for a career-high 251 yards and two scores Friday night as Page made a mockery of its 3A North showdown at Chinle.
The teams started the night sharing the top spot in the region at 3-0, but the Sand Devils again demonstrated the top-heaviness of the region. Page overcame an early 7-6 deficit to roll up a 56-7 halftime lead and run its differential in North Region games to plus-267 points.
Page (8-1, No. 4 in 3A) has scored virtually at will since late September and needs 36 points next Friday night to match the program record for points in a season. The 1974 Sand Devils amassed 476 of them.
Page also appears guaranteed to host its first state tournament game in 23 years.
Meredith will enter the regular-season finale at home with Monument Valley (Kayenta) with 1,570 yards on the season. His 42-yard run set up the first of two Hayden Gracia TD runs to get the scoring going. The Wildcats (4-5, No. 25) responded with an 86-yard drive to hand Page its first deficit since Sept. 7. Chinle was given another chance with a Page fumble at the Sand Devil 16, but the Page defense stiffened and forced the Wildcats to turn it over on downs.
Quarterback Robert Smith then finished a two-play drive with a 65-yard scoring run. Smith ran for 91 yards and finished 6 of 8 for 108 yards passing with two touchdowns. The next Page drive totaled one play as Meredith scampered 89 yards.
Chinle ended the half with interceptions on three possessions, one of them going for a pick-six by Page's Dainian Sloan.
Dillion Anderson completed the scoring by running back the second half kickoff 76 yards. A running clock limited the second half to just 27 plays. Meredith topped his previous high for a night, 244 yards against Holbrook last year. He now has 17 straight 100-yard rushing games in regular season play, with seven 200-yard games and 4,229 career yards.
Chinle, bidding for its first win over Page since 2011, abandoned the run from the start. Three quarterbacks were 11-of-34 throwing for 191 yards.
Things are taking shape for the Flagstaff, Northland Prep and Coconino cross county teams.
Five Flagstaff runners on the boys side took third through seventh place, while Micah Stanton finished second overall for Northland Prep at the Holbrook Invitational 5,000-meter race on Friday.
Thanks to the grouping, the Division II Eagles showed that the new faces to the squad are ready to take on the task of bringing home a fourth straight state title, taking first place as a team. The D-IV Spartans, who behind Stanton had a pack of three blue jerseys take the 10 through 12 finishes, demonstrated that they are handling the targets on their back just fine after upsetting Hopi in 2017 for the title, ending their day at Holbrook with a silver team medal.
The Flagstaff boys scored 25 points and Northland Prep recorded 49. Gabrial Harju led the flock of Eagles with a 16:56.02 time good for third place overall, and teammates Max Davis, Riley Human, Nate Milton and Zac Joyce, who ran a 17:07.47, finished in order behind him.
"The boys team continues to impress me with the tight pack they have," said Eagles head coach Trina Painter. "They are extremely focused right now and training is going very well."
Ryan Hatch finished 13th and Alan Hagerman took 15th for the Eagles boys.
Meanwhile, Flagstaff’s Hana Hall crossed the finish line in first place for the second straight race. The reigning City Championship Meet girls winner again set herself apart from the field, clocking an 18:25.30 in the 5000m, with the runner-up from Chinle coming in at 18:41.54.
Although Hall won as an individual champ for Flagstaff, which took second as team at 68, Coconino’s girls squad stole the show with its first-place finish on 44 points. The victorious D-III Panthers, who won the event for a third straight season, were led by Woodlyn Smith’s fourth-place result in 19:40.04. Three other Coconino runners finished in the top 15, as Kaelynn Ashley finished sixth, Hope Saxton eighth, and Lilia Tassinari 11th.
The Panthers girls had 44 points, and the Eagles registered 68.
The Northland Prep girls, led by a Maya Guthrie‘s 47th-place overall finish in 24:27.57, wound up ninth as a team. Flagstaff, competing in Holbrook without a few of its top runners on the girls side, saw Sydney Marston end her day in 10th place as one of the better performances for the team.
Northland Prep’s Malakai Hanson was 10th in the boys race at 17:29.70, and teammates Dana Leib-Perry and Credence Jones finished 11th and 12th respectively. Spartans senior Sailor Starcher wasn’t far behind the pack of blue jerseys, crossing in 14th place.
Spartans head coach Missy Acker said Stanton continues to set a tone for the boys crew.
“Micah ran another fast and competitive race. He ran confident and neck-and-neck with the runner from Chinle,” she said. “He did another great job of leading our team.”
The Coconino boys team finished 11th, with Taylor Taliman the first of the Panthers to finish in a time of 18:33.60.