Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: The Thatcher Eagles celebrate repeating as 2A State Champions after dispatching Santa Cruz Valley, 28-27, in overtime.

Thatcher comes from behind to beat Santa Cruz Valley in overtime for the AIA 2A State Championship

By Jon Johnson

GILBERT – Ali-Frazier, Lakers-Celtics, Yankees-Red Sox, Wildcats-Sun Devils, and now one can add Eagles-Dust Devils to the great rivalries in sports.

Down 23-8 with about 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Thatcher’s chance of repeating as state champions was minimal. Looks can be deceiving, however, and the Thatcher Eagles (13-1) beat their second undefeated team in the playoffs by besting the Santa Cruz Valley Dust Devils (13-1) in overtime, 28-27, for Thatcher’s second consecutive state championship. As they say, it was deja vu all over again.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: The Thatcher Eagles celebrate their victory.

Teams just don’t have six turnovers in a state championship game and go on to beat an unbeaten opponent. Don’t tell that to Thatcher. After a shaky first three quarters, Thatcher quarterback Tyler Roebuck calmly led his team’s comeback victory and scored twice in the fourth quarter, on runs of 16 and 2 yards, to tie the game.

Beating the Dust Devils in overtime in the playoffs is becoming a thing for the Eagles, who knocked off Santa Cruz in overtime in the semifinals last year, 27-26, on its way to the state championship.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Thatcher head coach Sean Hinton is all smiles with the trophy after the game.

“It feels great,” Thatcher head coach Sean Hinton said. “Hats off to Santa Cruz. They’re a great football team. Hopefully, we don’t see a third overtime game with them because we’re pushing our luck with a team like that . . .”

It was all Santa Cruz early on, however, as quarterback Jesus Cosillos hit his receivers on big play after big play, starting with a 51-yard strike to a wide open Hunter Ogle. That led to the Dust Devils’ first score, as Cosillos hit Nico Flores on a 23-yard TD. The extra point was good, and Santa Cruz struck first, 7-0.

After a bad snap on a punt attempt by Thatcher ended up with Santa Cruz getting the ball on the Eagles’ 48-yard line, Cosillos went to the air again, this time hitting his tight end Curtis Banks on the 48-yard TD and Santa Cruz was suddenly up 13-0.

Thatcher got its running game going in its second possession, and after big gains by Trevan Clark and Shane Cook, Quinton Turley took it in 5 yards for the Eagles’ first score and added the 2-point conversion to bring the Eagles within 5, down 13-8.

Thatcher had one last chance to score before halftime but Titarro Jones broke up Roebuck’s pass to Clark in the end zone and the teams went into the break with Santa Cruz up 13-8.

As halftime hit, the news broke that Turley had dislocated his elbow and he was iced up and carted off the field, doubtful to return for the second half. But much like Willis Reed in the game 7 of the 1970 NBA Championship, the Eagles couldn’t keep Turley from returning to the game, even hurt. Turley got his elbow taped back together and returned to play defense in the second half.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Quinton Turley receives a celebratory smooch from his teammate.

“They didn’t tell me I couldn’t play, so, I don’t know, we just taped it up and I tried to get back in,” Turley said. “It was kind of scary playing with it, but, I don’t know, it didn’t hurt too bad I guess.”

Thatcher played their game to start the third quarter, and after a 25-yard kickoff return by Riley Morris set them up at midfield, the Eagles methodically worked the ball down into the red zone.

The drive was stopped short at the 10-yard line, however, as Thatcher needed 3 and only got 2 on 4th down.

Facing a 3rd and 9 from their own 23, the Dust Devils went back to the air and Cosillos sailed a bomb to Seth Perez for 69 yards down to the Eagles’ 18-yard line.

Alex Wyble-Meza then finished the drive with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone and Cosillos hit Flores for the 2-point conversion to put the Dust Devils up 21-8.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Cole Motes cleans up the tackle on Alec Wyble-Meza.

With Thatcher’s ball-control offense, both teams only had one possession end in the third quarter, and time was running out on an Eagles’ comeback.

Thatcher answered by bringing the ball back into the red zone, but on 3rd and 9 from the 14, Samuel Camacho stepped in front of Roebuck’s pass for the interception and Thatcher came up empty again.

The Eagles’ defense stepped up again and, aided by a dropped pass from Banks, Thatcher forced a punt, which was blocked, and the Eagles took over at midfield, determined to score.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Tyler Roebuck leaps over a downed teammate on his way into the end zone for a 16-yard score.

The Eagles continued their game plan of running the ball, and Roebuck leaped his way to a 16-yard TD. Connor Russell’s extra point was good and Thatcher was now down 21-15.

The Eagles defense forced a three-and-out and Thatcher got the ball back at its own 46 with 3:32 left in regulation.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Trevan Clark gets upended on his run.

Thatcher continued its run efforts as Santa Cruz appeared to become weary and Roebuck had some big runs to take the ball down to first and goal. Roebuck then finished the drive with a 2-yard TD to tie the game at 21-21 with just 23 seconds left.

All Thatcher had to do was kick the extra point, but for a game that saw two titans of the 2A battle it out in the trenches all game, 48 minutes wouldn’t be enough as Russell’s kick was blocked by Banks and the teams went to overtime.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: Tyler Roebuck had two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie up the game.

“It was very ugly, but we always just keep doing what we do and, hopefully, they were going to break,” Hinton said. “We kind of figured it was going to come down to a fourth-quarter battle and, hopefully, our conditioning and things paid off.”

In high school overtime rules, both teams get a chance to score from the 10-yard line. 

Thatcher started on offense and soon found them in the unenviable position of facing 4th and goal from the 9. Tyler Roebuck handed the ball off to Riley Morris, and the grinder followed his blocks and pounded it in for the score. This time the extra point was good, and Thatcher went up, 28-21, with Santa Cruz set to have its offensive attempt.

“I just got together with coach and the linemen and we decided to call big on big with our best linemen and we just ran it right up their throat,” Morris said.   

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Valley Central: The Eagles pose with their second straight 2A State Championship banner.

Dust Devils’ quarterback Jesus Cosillos then faked a handoff and bounced off Thatcher defenders to score from the 10 on the very first snap, and it appeared that the teams would play a second overtime. But the extra point kick failed, and the Eagles sent the Dust Devils home packing in overtime for the second consecutive year in the playoffs, while taking the state trophy back home to Thatcher for the second time with the 28-27 victory.

“It feels great,” Roebuck said after the game. “There’s not really much you could say; it feels great.”

“These boys just fought hard,” Hinton said. “It was ugly, but they fought no matter what was going on. So, (they’re) a great football team, probably one of the best to come through Thatcher.”