One week after becoming the first Yuma Union High School District football team to win a state playoff game in more than 50 years, Gila Ridge did it again.
This time, against the No. 1 seed in the 4A state playoffs.
A second-half rally in Tucson propelled the No. 9 Hawks to a 28-21 victory over No. 1 Sahuaro in the 4A state quarterfinals Friday.
“That’s huge,” coach John Ellegood said of reaching the semifinals. “That just doesn’t happen every year. We were able to do it. Now we’re one of the final four teams in 4A.”
Gila Ridge (10-1 overall) will face No. 4 Desert Edge (9-3) next Friday at a site to be announced.
Friday night’s game was a tale of two halves, on both sides of the ball.
In the first half, Gila Ridge totaled just 80 yards of offense while giving up 200 to Sahuaro, which used a pair of long touchdown runs to take a 21-7 lead into the locker room.
But in the second half, the Hawks outgained the Cougars 178-83 while scoring touchdowns on three of their five possessions. Sahuaro, meanwhile, came up empty on all six of its second-half possessions, with three punts and three turnovers.
Dom Jones scored the eventual game-winning touchdown for the Hawks, reeling in a deep pass from CJ Wiggins down the sideline and taking it in for a 67-yard score with 7:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Huge play by Dom,” Ellegood said. “Great pass by CJ. For Dom to break that and take it all the way, that was crazy.”
That was the third touchdown of the second half for the Hawks, who also got scores from Jaden Delorme (6-yard reception) and Renan Duarte (4-yard run).
Wiggins finished with three touchdown passes, including a 28-yarder to David Randle in the first quarter.
Sahuaro needed just four offensive plays to take an early 12-0 lead. A bad snap on a punt attempt on Gila Ridge’s first drive set Sahuaro up at the Hawks’ 10-yard line, and the Cougars punched it in two plays later. After Gila Ridge’s next drive ended in a turnover on downs, Sahuaro’s Jamir Gasaway broke free for a 46-yard touchdown.
Gasaway later got loose for a 90-yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-20 that gave the Cougars an 18-7 lead in the second quarter.
That could have been a backbreaker for the Hawks; instead, they showed the resiliency they’ve shown time and again this season — including last week, when they rallied for a 10-9 victory at No. 8 Coconino.
“My halftime speech was, ‘This is where we thrive, we love this,’” Ellegood said. “I don’t know what it is about two score deficits, but we thrive in it. My guys don’t put their heads down.”
This second-half comeback started with a forced three-and-out on the Cougars’ first drive out of the locker room, which the Hawks followed with a 6-play, 47-yard scoring drive.
To open the fourth quarter, the Hawks went 45 yards in six plays to tie the game.
Sahuaro’s next possession reached the Gila Ridge 36-yard line before the Hawks recovered a fumble, and two plays later, Jones caught the go-ahead touchdown.
Gila Ridge’s D’Angelo Jackson iced the game with an interception with about a minute left. It was the Hawks’ fourth takeaway of the night, including the fumble recovery and interceptions by Anthony Mejia-Acosta and Christopher Torres.
Sahuaro, a run-oriented team, totaled just 12 yards on the ground in the second half.
“We made a few adjustments (defensively) but honestly we just kept playing our game,” Ellegood said. “We knew exactly what they were going to do. (Gasaway) is their guy. He was able to take advantage of us a few times in the first half, and then we knew coming into the second half that’s what they were going to do.
“We stuck to our guns and stuck to our game and that panned out.”