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Henry, Matadors top No. 9 Scottsdale in home opener
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound converted defensive lineman stepped in front of the 5-foot-8, 154-pound wide receiver, intercepting the pass.
Then D'Vante Henry did something really unexpected — he out-accelerated Teddy Ruben down the field as the Scottsdale receiver eventually stopped pursing the Arizona Western linebacker on his 75-yard touchdown return.
The first quarter pick-six change helped the No. 5 Matadors build a 22-point halftime lead as they went on to a 63-38 win over the No. 9 Artichokes Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in a Western States Football League showdown.
“I've been working on getting picks,” Henry said. “When I got this one, I saw the shadow behind me and I had to go. I knew he was going to be behind me and my only goal was to get to the touchdown.”
The Matadors (3-0 overall, 2-0 WSFL) led 10-3 in the first quarter but the Artichokes (3-1, 1-1) were marching down field, thanks in part to converting a third-and-18 when quarterback Jordan Gehrke found Ruben for a 26-yard swing pass.
But Henry came up with his interception on second-and-5 on the Matador 21, jumping the swing pattern again.
AWC coach Tom Minnick said he was happy with the way his depleted defense played — Henry was only playing linebacker because Randy Gregory went down with a season-ending leg injury two weeks ago.
“Some of the kids were down when Randy and some of our other kids went down with broken legs and stuff like that, but we still got enough here,” Minnick said. “On defense we might look like a Chinese fire drill, in and out with kids, but we do a pretty good job of keeping kids fresh. And that's what we're trying to do. It may look like a Chinese fire drill but it did real well.”
The Artichokes mounted a late comeback. The Matadors built a 37-9 lead early in the third quarter, but a touchdown from Kevin Spain to Ruben slashed the lead to 49-38 with 4:54 left.
Scottsdale got the ball back down 11 with 3:12 left and marched to the Matadors' 37, but Spain threw four straight incompletions an the Matadors took over with 2:21 left. DeSean Martin ran three straight times on the ensuing Matador possession, the last one 24 yards for the score. Cassius Sendish added a 27-yard interception return for a score with 0:45 left.
Minnick said he never felt like the game was over.
“I told them they were still in it when we went in at half (up 31-9),” Minnick said of the Artichokes, who scored 34 points in a win last week against Eastern Arizona after being shut out in the first half. “The last two weeks they've been down and won games. We told them we have to hang in there because they are going to make a run. And they did make a run, and luckily we withstood it.”
Scottsdale added a field goal on its possession after Henry's interception that cut the lead to 17-6 with 14:40 left in the first half, but four minutes later DeSean Martin connected with Andre O'Neil on a 30-yard halfback pass. On the next two possessions, the Matadors again answered a Scottsdale field goal with a touchdown, this one on a pass to Martin from Tanner McEvoy for a 31-9 lead.
McEvoy completed 21 of 29 passes for 412 yards and five touchdowns. Markeith Ambles was his favorite target, catching 10 balls for 268 yards and two scores. O'Neil had two touchdown catches as well.
“They had a good week of practice,” Minnick said. “McEvoy is getting better and better and better every week, and Markeith played really well. As long as we get better every week, that's what we want.”
Ambles could have had an even bigger game, but dropped a pass that McEvoy lofted into the end zone. There wasn't a defender within 20 yards of Ambles, but he had to backpedal and field it almost like a punt. The ball went off his hands and fell to the ground. The Matadors had to punt two plays later.
After a slow first half on the ground, Martin finished with 179 yards on 22 carries. He also had two receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown making his first start of the year at running back. The Matadors finished with 636 total yards of offense, although they surrendered 534 to the Artichokes. The two Scottsdale quarterbacks completed 21 of their 59 passes for 392 yards.
“This is the best game we played so far even though they scored 38 points,” Minnick said. “It's expected against Scottsdale because they throw every down. They are going to war us out, and they did a good job. That's the way they try to beat us, by throwing the ball 50, 60 times. We did a decent job with it.”
The Matadors head to Thatcher next week to face their second ranked opponent in as many weeks when they battle Eastern Arizona. Kickoff is slated at 6 p.m.