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CHAMPIONSHIP: Class 3A
SCORE: Queen Creek Casteel 35, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy 28
DATE: November 25, 2017
SITE: Gilbert Campo Verde High School
GAME SUMMARY: Pusch Ridge, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, faced No. 3 challenger Casteel in a battle of unbeaten teams in the championship. Although the seeds indicated Pusch Ridge as the favorite, Casteel reportedly had three times as many players, a result of three times the enrollment of Pusch Ridge.
The Colts (14-0) needed a late drive to win the game.
Pusch Ridge (13-1) had one last opportunity but turned the ball over on downs with 2:25 remaining at its own 29-yard line and Casteel ran out the clock from there against the fatigued Lions.
Pusch Ridge made its fifth straight trip to the state tournament under coaches Troy Kopp and Jerry Harris, including a championship in 2015 capping Kupp’s four-year tenure at the school.
Casteel junior quarterback Gunner Cruz, who is now at Arizona after first signing with Washington State, threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions.
He led his team to a 28-21 halftime lead on 242 yards passing in the first half, scoring on four of five possessions.
Pusch Ridge’s defense showed some resilience against Cruz and Casteel in the third quarter with Mitch Maas intercepting a pass on the second play after halftime and the Lions stopping the Colts on a fourth-and-11 at the Lions’ 30.
The Lions then drove the ball 70 yards in 15 plays, capped by Tamerat McLeod’s 1-yard run to tie the game at 28 with 9:42 remaining.
Casteel answered with a 69-yard scoring drive that included a conversion on fourth-and-inches at midfield. Mack Johnson carried the ball on the last four plays, covering 11 yards and scored with 4:35 left to take the 35-28 lead.
Pusch Ridge started its next possession at its 16 and stalled after achieving a first down.
Lions quarterback Christian Fetsis rushed for 1,188 yards that season but the Casteel defense limited him to 20 yards.
THEY SAID IT: “I couldn’t be any more proud, 13-1 and playing in the state championship is nothing to be ashamed of. Did we want to come out of the other end of it? Absolutely. But we will take a lot away from this season. These kids are fighters. Our 300 Spartans were taking on the Persian Army, and I would take my 300 Spartans again tomorrow if that’s what it took.” — Pusch Ridge coach Jerry Harris to the Arizona Daily Star.
DID YOU KNOW: Pusch Ridge was in its 21st year of varsity football in 2017. Casteel started playing only freshman football in 2015 and reached the state playoffs in its first varsity season in 2016. One year later, it won this state title over Pusch Ridge. The following season in 2018, Casteel moved up from Class 3A to 5A.