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CHAMPIONSHIP: Class 4A
SCORE: Sunnyside 21, Glendale Cactus 13
DATE: December 6, 2003
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe
GAME SUMMARY: Sunnyside made the remarkable recovery of winning its second state title in a three-year period under coach Richard Sanchez after starting the 2003 season with an 0-2 record. Those two losses were also not close — Salpointe beat Sunnyside 35-10 to open the season and Scottsdale Chaparral won in a 41-14 rout.
Sunnyside (12-2) went on to win 12 straight games including the thriller against Cactus in the championship game at ASU.
The game started inauspiciously for Sunnyside when Cactus (12-2) drove 78 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Bubba Bradley’s 4-yard run.
After the Blue Devils turned the ball over on downs at the Cactus 23, the Cobras had a 15-play drive that resulted in Bradley’s 32-yard field goal that increased the lead to 10-0 with 10:32 left in the first half.
Yet another deep Sunnyside drive ended in an interception.
The Blue Devils did not get on the scoreboard until 1:54 remained in the first half. That’s when Jaime Cota connected with Mike Villalobos for a 17-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 10-7. Cota completed 12 of 18 pass attempts for 158 yards in the game.
Talented tailback Xavier Smith, who went on to play at Arizona, put Sunnyside ahead 14-10 early in the third quarter with a 32-yard touchdown run.
Sunnyside’s defense stopped Cactus on two consecutive possession in the red zone. The second one resulted in a 22-yard field goal by Bradley to cut the lead to 14-13 with 5:29 left.
Smith then broke off a 50-yard run that set up his 1-yard scoring plunge with 1:28 remaining to put Sunnyside ahead 21-13.
Cactus threatened to the end.
The Cobras arrived at the Sunnyside 39 with 20 seconds remaining.
Bradley found a wide-open Kevin Marin in the end zone for an apparent touchdown with 11 seconds left, but the score was waved off after it was determined that Bradley released the pass beyond the line of scrimmage.
Alex Valencia secured the victory with a sack of Bradley at midfield as time expired.
DID YOU KNOW: Sunnyside surpassed 100 yards rushing for the 11th straight game behind Xavier Smith’s production. He rushed for 120 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. In that 2003 season as a junior, he gained 1,851 yards with 23 touchdowns. His younger brother Michael Smith was another standout at Sunnyside who went on to play at Utah State and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.
THEY SAID IT: “We’re never undersized in heart, character or fire. It’s the same way every game.” — Sunnyside defensive coordinator Terry Seward, a former Blue Devil head coach, told the Arizona Daily Star. Sunnyside’s defensive line averaged 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds while Cactus’ offensive front was 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds.
BOXSCORE (printed in the Arizona Daily Star):