Early in the first quarter of the annual Bronze Boot Game, Camp Verde High School’s football team converted a turnover into seven points.
However the Cowboys failed to execute in red zone opportunities down the stretch, falling 21-14 to the visiting Chino Valley High School Cougars on Friday, Aug. 25.
“The last two drives we had every chance in the world to win this football game and we couldn’t dig down deep enough to find it within ourselves to get it done,” Cowboys head coach Jerry Rhoades said.
Chino Valley elected to receive the opening kickoff. Junior quarterback Michael Paulus gave the ball back to the hosts on the third play from scrimmage.
It took Camp Verde just three plays to score. Junior running back Dominiq Bruno took a swing pass and scored from about 45 yards out. He also converted the extra point try to put his team up 7-0.
Camp Verde fumbled the kickoff at the start of the second half, and Chino Valley capitalized. The Cowboys struggled to control line play early on, then began to establish themselves in the second half, but failed to when it counted most. They also turned it over on downs a handful of times.
The Cougars did not score on their second drive, but did on the third. Paulus, on the first play after the Cowboys’ punt, ran the ball almost the length of the field to tie the game.
Both teams exchanged short possessions for most of the second quarter.
Bruno and senior tailback Ryan Loza saw the ball plenty on the ground. But Camp Verde’s young line, which starts a number of underclassmen, struggled against Chino Valley in the trenches. That battle would later be decisive.
“When you start freshmen on the offensive line you’re asking for that. Sophomores, same thing. We need to figure out a way to make that stuff go away and we need to get better,” Rhoades said.
Opposite Bruno and Loza were Paulus and freshman Seth Jelovic for the Cougars. The tandem was effective in its run option look, often keeping the ball while attempting few passes more than 10 yards downfield.
The visitors’ longest drive saw them maintain possession for most of the quarter.
Camp Verde had trouble pressuring the ball and receivers in the red zone, and Paulus ran in a quarterback keeper from the left to make it 13-7 with four minutes left.
The next Cowboys possession resulted in a turnover on downs. They got the ball back again with 39 seconds left, but senior quarterback Payton Sarkesian was sacked to end the half.
The second half would end the same way, and it did not start great either, when Camp Verde fumbled the kickoff return.
Chino Valley drove the ball 45 yards for the score.
A deep pass gashed the Cowboys secondary for a big gain. Jelovic scored on another quarterback keeper, this time up the middle. He scored the two-point conversion.
From there on the Cowboys began to string together first downs and drive down the field, but could not score. After another big gain for Chino Valley, the Cowboys forced a fumble on their end of the field.
Camp Verde senior receiver Kieran Chrisman then gave his team a spark. He turned a tipped pass into a big play, being forced out on the seven yard line.
Cowboys Sr WR Kieran Chrisman on his effort, who had a number of key rec., including a 28 yarder to set his team up 1st & goal in 4Q pic.twitter.com/y8HMGM3spl— Daniel Hargis (@d_harg) August 26, 2017
Three plays put the ball on the one yard line, then Loza punched it in to get his team to within one score.
Chino Valley turned it over again, this time junior defensive back Steven Petty grabbing an interception. But Camp Verde failed to convert its third forced turnover into a touchdown.
Chrisman later made a one-handed catch and later converted a first down. The Cowboys drove to within the 10 yard line, but again turned it over on downs.
With 1:41 left they got the ball one last time. After an illegal motion penalty, they faced a third and 18 play from the 38, and again Chrisman came through.
“I’ve got to thank all the blocking for the return and pass. If it wasn’t for my line or the people blocking it wouldn’t have happened,” Chrisman said.
He took another pass down to the 10 yard line with just over a minute to play. Loza was stuffed on the first play, and so was Bruno on the second.
Sarkesian was sacked with five seconds remaining and no timeouts left.
Despite the loss Rhoades recognized his team’s effort, who lost 52-0 in last year’s matchup.
“We played our butts off. We played our butts off against a pretty good 3A football team. We’re playing with 15 freshmen I think that’s a pretty good thing in itself.”
Coach Rhoades talked to his team about not having any more excuses the rest of the way, but was proud of them pic.twitter.com/kS2qRolbNo— Daniel Hargis (@d_harg) August 26, 2017
The Cowboys have a big test when they travel to face one of the tougher team in Conference 2A, Scottsdale Christian Academy. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1.