GILBERT — Friday night’s 28-20 loss on the road against Arizona College Prep was a big test for the young Walden Grove Red Wolves squad, which had its youth ultimately got the best of it in a game coming down to the final play. On paper, Walden Grove outperformed Arizona College Prep, but a handful of turnovers and issues in the red zone would end up being too much to overcome.
“We’ve got to learn how to play in these types of games,” Walden Grove coach Corey Noble said. “We’ve got to learn how to play in these really tough games, and we haven’t been in a whole lot of them, but they showed a hell of a lot of fight tonight.”
ACP started the game off with the football, but a fumble on the fourth play quickly gave the ball to Walden Grove around midfield. The Red Wolves weren’t able to string a series of plays together early, ultimately turning the ball over on downs following a sack for a loss of six yards.
On the following drive, ACP was able to march down the field and cap it off with a 15-yard touchdown pass and an extra point to make it 7-0 with 6:43 remaining.
Junior quarterback Gabriel Smith was able to start getting into a flow on the following possession, where a mix of both passing plays and runs had them creeping up on the red zone. Finding themselves in fourth and long territory at the 28-yard-line, Walden Grove decided to go for it. However, a sack would ultimately result in a loss of four yards and another turnover on downs towards the end of the first quarter.
Defense was able to step up and force ACP to punt on the following possession, but it was a frustrating moment when the ball was fumbled on the handoff and recovered by ACP at the Walden Grove 20. It only took one play and the Knights were in the end zone once again. Attempting the extra point attempt, the ball hit the left upright and bounced back onto the field, leaving the score at 13-0 with 10:56 left before the half.
“We put ourselves in a bad position starting flat not making plays,” Noble said.
Walden Grove was finally loosened up, and it showed on its next possession. Despite Smith getting hit hard on the drive, the Red Wolves were still able to get the ball across the goal line on a 19-yard touchdown pass from senior Caleb Lyden to senior Jahme Dawson. The extra point was no good. Walden Grove cut ACP lead to 13-6 with 9:00 exactly before halftime.
The momentum was on Walden Grove’s side at this point, where the defense forced ACP to punt once again. The Red Wolves took over at their own 19, where they slowly but surely chipped away towards the end zone. Making it all the way to the 10-yard-line, Walden Grove wasn’t able to finish the drive, ultimately turning the ball over on downs with less than a minute left before the half.
Coming back out after halftime, the Red Wolves got the ball to start things off. Making some adjustments, Walden Grove was able to extend the possession and take it down the field for six, polished off with a five-yard run from sophomore Robert Cash III. This time, the extra point attempt was blocked, leaving Walden Grove still trailing 13-12 with 7:03 left in the third.
What ensued in the following three minutes would be arguably the biggest difference-maker in the outcome of the game for a handful of reasons.
ACP came out on the following possession with an explosive 62-yard touchdown run to quickly push the lead back out to 19-12. Going for two, the Knights were able to convert to make it 21-12 with 6:05 left in the 3rd.
On the kickoff, an unfortunate fumble from Walden Grove put the ball right back in the hands of ACP, taking over with excellent field position at their own 27. Taking two more minutes off the clock as they finished the drive, the Knights capped it off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-12 with 4:03 remaining, along with a successful extra point attempt.
Making things worse, Walden Grove went a quick three and out on the following possession, forcing its defense back on the field once again. Forcing a quick visit to the field for the Knights, the defense was able to force a punt with around 1:30 left in the third, setting up Walden Grove at their own 40.
Smith was doing his best on the following possession to move the ball, but the greenness of the offensive line shined through once again, resulting in an upsetting turnover on downs after once again making it to the red zone.
Defense was still hungry to play, forcing yet another fumble recovered in the air by sophomore Carlos Montoya Jr and returned to the ACP 25. From there, it was enough momentum for the Red Wolves to finally capitalize on their field position, where Smith was able to find Lyden in the end zone for a touchdown.
“Our defense was playing lights-out,” Noble said. “I think we’ve got a shot to be one of the top defenses in the state. Our defense is playing lights-out football. Montoya made another huge play tonight, getting the strip and taking it back for a long return and really getting us back in it.”
Knowing the game was within reach, the Red Wolves decided to go for two and were able to convert. Smith found junior Paul Guy in the front corner of the end zone, making a diving catch to cut the score to 28-20 with 7:32 left to play.
ACP’s following drive was able to chew off another four and a half minutes, eventually turning over the ball on downs at the Walden Grove 15-yard-line with 2:50 left in the game. Once again, Walden Grove was able to make a push at scoring, reaching the 20-yard-line, but a sack, and incompletion, and another sack would ultimately bring an end to the game.
Overall, Smith completed 21 of his 34 pass attempts for approximately 237 yards on the night and no interceptions. Lyden also was one for one on his solo pass attempt in the second quarter for a 19-yard touchdown, giving the Red Wolves a total of around 256 yards in the air. Rushing yards were harder to come by, though, as a tumultuous second half on the ground cut down their overall total to only around 76 yards on the night.
Much of the yardage lost on the ground Friday night came in the form of QB sacks. Smith was sacked six times alone by Cayden Gibson, who set a school single-game record for sacks.
“We got out-physicaled up front a little bit,” Noble said. “Starting three sophomores on the O-line, they’ve got to learn to play big boy football, and they will. They’re doing a hell of a job, they’ve got a lot better, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Walden Grove, who is currently 1-2 on the season after a tough set of teams to start of the year, will return home next week to host Pueblo (2-0). Noble is looking forward to correcting some of the mistakes from the past week and taking on a solid Pueblo team.
NO. 17 WALDEN GROVE (7-2, 4-0)Red Wolves compete in the 4A Gila. *Region game. Games start at 7 p.m.
|9/2||@ CDO||L, 28-7||0-1||0-0|
|9/16||@ AZ College Prep||L, 28-20||1-2||0-0|
|10/7||@ Mountain View||W, 49-42||3-2||0-0|
|10/21||@ Rio Rico*||W, 39-7||5-2||2-0|
|10/28||@ Amphi*||W, 46-18||6-2||3-0|
|11/4||@ Sahuarita*||W, 56-7||7-2||4-0|