Courtesy of Don Ketchum at AIA365.comPHOENIX, Ariz. -
The noise sounded like a hammer pounding nails.
Wham! Wham! Wham!
It was Chaparral (Scottsdale)
all-purpose player Davonte Neal
slamming his head (with his helmet on, of course) into the back of the metal bench along the Firebirds' sideline before their Division II semifinal game against Centennial (Peoria)
on Friday night (Nov. 18).
He was ready to make an impact.
Neal had done just that for Chaparral all season, mainly on offense and in the return game. But it was his defense, from the cornerback spot, that was the difference.
With Centennial marching toward a potential go-ahead score in the closing moments of the game, Neal intercepted a halfback pass in the end zone with 1:04 left to preserve the lead and Chaparral held on for a 31-30 victory at Phoenix North Canyon.
The win by top-seeded Chaparral (13-1) sets up a championship duel with No. 2 seed Cienega (Vail)
(13-0) on Nov. 26 at 5 p.m. at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium. Cienega defeated Tucson Ironwood Ridge 24-21 in the other semifinal in Tucson.See Arizona Division II bracket.
"I talked to Nemer (Hassey, Cienega coach) for about 20 minutes earlier this week,'' said Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle.
The Chaparral-Cienega contest almost became a Centennial-Cienega final as Centennial (11-2) rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit with three touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 21-17 lead entering the fourth.
gave Centennial the 21-17 lead after he returned a fumble by Neal (after a 20-yard pass reception) for a 52-yard touchdown.
Chaparral took advantage of good field position after a high snap on a Centennial punt and took a 24-21 lead on a 9-yard run by Lucas Petrullo
with 7:58 left in the game.
It took only 11 seconds for fifth-seeded Centennial to regain the lead at 28-24 on an 80-yard strike from quarterback Justin Sanchez
to Tyler Beenau
More good field position for Chaparral, at its 38 after a Centennial penalty on the kickoff, led to a nine-play, 62-yard drive that was capped by Petrullo's 8-yard scoring run with 4:33 left for a 31-28 lead.
Centennial moved the ball to the Chaparral 21, but Ortiz threw the ball short on a halfback pass intended for Sanchez and Neal cut underneath to make the pick.
"I thought it was going to be a run at first (as Ortiz rolled to his right), but then I saw he was going to throw and I turned around and made the play,'' said Neal.
Neal, who took several snaps out of the Wildcat formation during the game, took the snap on the final play of the game and ran out of the back of the end zone for the safety to make it 31-30.
Sanchez played well for Centennial, completing 19 of 30 passes for 333 yards. The Coyotes had 410 yards total offense, compared to just 264 for Chaparral. That number was somewhat misleading for the Firebirds, who got the short field after their special teams took advantage of Centennial blunders.
"No. 3 (Neal) finished it off, probably the way it should be,'' Ragle said.
"We've been behind before. This is what we do. The kids showed great resiliency after blowing a 17-0 lead. We have a great program, great kids, great assistant coaches and a great administration.''
So there is one game to go.
Ragle told his team afterward, "It's not where you start, but where you finish.''