Kent Denver’s opener in the Class 2A playoffs was far from vintage Sun Devils football. To wit: double-figures in penalties, more yards passing than rushing, 35 points allowed compared to 50 in the entire regular season.
“It wasn’t our best game,’’ admitted veteran coach Scott Yates. “We didn’t play the kind of traditional, disciplined football that we normally play.’’
But at this point, all that really matters is the bottom line for the unbeaten and top-seeded Sun Devils: a 49-35 home victory over a gritty No. 16 seed Strasburg and a quarterfinal matchup at No. 9 Brush.
“That’s a good team from a very good league, and we knew they were good,’’ Yates said of Strasburg, a Patriot League team that brought a 5-4 record with all four losses to playoff teams into the contest. “We certainly didn’t take them lightly.
“They just kept coming back. It really was two tough teams as far as character is concerned and guys not giving up.’’
Kent Denver (10-0) needed a boost from its overlooked passing offense to overtake the Indians, who led 21-14 with 50 seconds left in the first half. Four big passes helped the Sun Devils score two straight touchdowns - one with 10.5 seconds left in the half to tie the game, then a 38-yard scoring strike from Joey Matarazzo to Brian Boatman to go up for good almost halfway through the third quarter. Matarazzo finished 9-of-15 passing for a season-high 208 yards (his previous best was 145), including a 52-yard touchdown to Matt Pettyjohn with 2:14 left in the third quarter, the first of two Kent Denver TDs that answered Strasburg scores that brought the Indians back to within seven points. Pettyjohn caught four passes for 118 yards and Boatman gained 73 yards on three receptions.
Kent Denver averaged 78.9 yards passing in the regular season, and Matarazzo said this “probably’’ was his best game throwing the football. “And that’s because the line gave me a lot of protection. I owe it all to the line and the receivers. The wide receivers caught the ball and made the extra yards.’’
Strasburg’s emphasis on containing the Sun Devils’ running game helped, too. Kent Denver averaged 266 yards on the ground, and had to work to gain 203 on 33 carries. But the Devils did get touchdown runs of 25 yards by Brannon Jones (75 yards total) and 22 by tailback Jaden Franklin (118 yards), and gained 123 yards rushing in the second half.
“They did a better job of stopping our good tailback a little bit, so we were able to capitalize on throwing the ball a little bit,’’ Yates said. “We just haven’t had to throw that much. We’ve had some games where we’ve gotten so far ahead so early.’’
Strasburg, a run-oriented team, got 176 yards and two touchdowns passing by freshman quarterback Mitchell Martin, who replaced injured senior Glenn Wallace after the second game. The Indians also rushed for 241 yards, led by sophomore Jacob Smith’s 187 yards and two touchdowns. Smith often took direct snaps from “wildcat’’ formation. The Indians converted a fourth down en route to their second and third touchdowns, the second drive covering 70 yards in 17 plays consuming almost eight minutes. They also scored the third TD after Matarazzo’s lone interception, striking on a 59-yard pass to Damien Chavarria that included a missed tackle just past midfield.
“What’s the saying: They get to play with house money,’’ Yates said. “We told our guys we would see everything.’’
But fourth-down tries backfired twice in the second half for Strasburg. The Indians came up short at their 38-yard line, and Kent made them pay on the next play with Boatman’s 38-yard touchdown catch. And, with Strasburg trailing 49-35 and facing fourth-and-8 from the Kent Denver 38, Matarazzo forced a fumble that the Devils’ Chantz Tanner recovered with 7:08 left to play. Tanner also recovered a fumble to set up Johnson’s 25-yard TD.
It’s on to the quarterfinals for the Sun Devils and a rematch of sorts.
“We’ve got to go all the way up to Brush,’’ Matarazzo said. “But that’s good for us because we can get a little redemption. They beat us two years ago in the semifinals.’’