PHOENIX — It was a heartbreaking end to the season on Thursday night for the No. 7 Tanque Verde Hawks (9-3), who lost to the No. 2 Arizona Lutheran Academy Coyotes (12-0) by a score of 22-21 in overtime in a 2A quarterfinal game.
While the loss stings for the Hawks, coach Jeff Bollnow told them to hold their heads high as they’ve got plenty to be proud of this year.
“They won their first playoff game ever in Tanque Verde history,” Bollnow said. “They had the most wins ever in Tanque Verde history. They just continue to be successful at a really high level that the school’s never seen before and I hope this is the jump start of being a normal occurrence of us being in the playoffs.”
Tanque Verde’s defense did something no other team has been able to do this season, holding Arizona Lutheran to a low of just 22 points in the game. It’s quite the accomplishment, considering the Coyotes average 59.2 points per game.
“To be fair, they held them to only 14 points in regulation,” Bollnow said. “But these boys have been playing defense all year round, so it’s not like we did something special. We did a few new fronts, but at the end of the day, we tackle.”
Things initially didn’t start great for the Hawks. Arizona Lutheran had the ball for the opening drive and was progressing down the field. The Coyotes got all the way to the red zone, where they fumbled at the 7-yard-line and it was recovered by Grayson Bradshaw.
For a moment, there was a momentum shift and all the energy was with the Hawks. However, Tanque Verde fumbled the ball right back, giving up two more yards in the process of losing the ball. It didn’t take long for Arizona Lutheran to score, with Elijah Harris taking it in from 10 yards out. The extra point attempt bounced off the upright of the goalpost and was no good, but Arizona Lutheran still was able to take a 6-0 lead with 7:01 left to play in the first quarter.
Tanque Verde had a quick three-and-out and was looking to punt when a high snap resulted in a fumble that rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety. With 5:28 left in the first quarter, it was 8-0 Arizona Lutheran leading.
Despite the rough start, Tanque Verde stayed mentally tough and didn’t let it deter them from its goal.
“I think that’s what you kind of saw tonight is that we can adjust to those problems that come up,” Bollnow said. “We know it’s important to just get back on the horse and do it the way we do it.”
The Hawks started to come alive in the second quarter, eating up a majority of the clock on a drive resulting in a touchdown by Bradshaw, who took it in from the 2. In an attempt to tie the game the Hawks went for two but were unable to convert, making it 8-6 Arizona Lutheran still leading with 3:20 left before the half.
On Arizona Lutheran’s opening snap of the following drive, the Coyotes fumbled and it was recovered by Rocco Haggard. While Tanque Verde might not have been able to score, they were able to keep Arizona Lutheran from having the ball for most of the time left before the half, giving it back with just enough time for one play.
All of the momentum from the second quarter carried over for Tanque Verde. After another quick three and out, its drive was kept alive after a fumble by the punt returner was recovered by the Hawks. From there, Tanque Verde continued to move the chains down the field and capped off the possession with a 3-yard touchdown run by Gavin Gilbert.
The Hawks decided to go for two and were able to convert, making it 14-8 with 5:33 left in the third.
Motivated, Arizona Lutheran was able to answer back with a 1-yard touchdown run of its own, tying things at 14 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter. The extra-point attempt was blocked, preventing the Coyotes from taking the lead.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth defensive battle to see who would break first, but neither team did. Still tied at 14 at the end of regulation, the game went into overtime.
Tanque Verde had possession first and was able to take the ball in on a 9-yard quarterback keeper from Bradshaw. The PAT was good, making it 21-14.
Arizona Lutheran had its backs against the ropes with the Hawks’ defense given the chance to win and advance with a stop as everything came down to the final possession. After a fight, the Coyotes were able to pass the ball into the end zone for a touchdown to make it 21-20. Deciding to go for two, Arizona Lutheran was able to convert and win it 22-21, advancing to the semifinals and effectively ending the season for Tanque Verde.
It was a heartbreaking moment, especially for the seniors on the team whose careers all came to an end following the game. Bollnow noted he appreciated everything this group has done to help them get where they are and said he’s going to miss the senior leaders from this team.
Bollnow also reflected back on his first season as a head coach and said none of it would have been possible without the belief and efforts put forth by every single member of the team.
“It was my first year being a head coach, and that was such a roller coaster ride,” Bollnow said. “It’s just a great group of kids to do that with, and I’m so appreciative of their effort and their buy-in and the football they played.”