GILBERT — The Higley Knights did almost everything right Nov. 8 in defeating the Ironwood Eagles, 56-12, in the first round of 5A football playoffs.
The defense had two takeaways, fumbles by Eagles quarterback William Haskell, with one being a scoop-and-score by Kope Vahai.
Offensively the team ran the ball as they wished and scored four from the ground.
Senior Isaiah Eastman had himself a pair of rushing touchdowns, a 15-yard sweep to the left blocked well by tight end Alexander Lines, and a 48-yard touchdown run on a similar run to the left.
Junior Kai Millner threw for three touchdowns and passed for 152 yards.
Next Friday the Knights face #6 Gilbert Campo Verde in the quarter-finals at home.
The Knights beat the Coyotes back in week six of the regular season but head coach Eddy Zubey knows not to let up.
“We’ve already played Campo Verde once and we were victorious but we can’t take them lightly and I could use an example of us last year where we lost to Casteel in the regular season and then came back in the quarter-finals and beat them to go on to the semi-finals,” Zubey said.
They’re going to come out, they’re going to be hungry, they’re going to be ready to go, they are a good football program and a good team,” Zubey said.
A win against Campo Verde would mean that the Knights would be in their fourth consecutive semi-final game since 2016.
A game Zubey has lost all three previous times cutting it just short before a chance at a championship.
The last time Ironwood made the playoffs was in 2011.
Despite their loss to the Knights, first-year Eagles head coach Chris Rizzo was proud of what his guys had accomplished in the season.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Rizzo said. “For the seniors, they’ve done something that Ironwood hasn’t done in eight years. So that’s two full classes that have gone through our school that have not gotten a chance to do this. So for the seniors it’s huge for them to leave their legacy and for the juniors their job is to build upon this and the sophomores is to build upon this even more. So right now the seniors have laid the groundwork and it’s everyone's job to pick up the shovel and lay more foundation as we go."
The last three minutes of the game ended by the Eagles’ choice to knee the remaining time following a game ending injury to their D1-recruited junior quarterback William Haskell who showed flashes of brilliance.
Haskell threw for a pair of touchdowns aside 172 passing yards, along with 132 rushing yards consisting of a 58-yard run in the second quarter to set up Ironwood’s first touchdown on a fade route to senior tight end Bubba Mannino-Faison.
“That’s why we wanted to run the last three minutes out no matter what because for the sophomores, the juniors and the freshmen that we have with us tonight, it’s an awesome opportunity for them to see a playoff game all the way through so right now it’s really hard to put into words but its huge,” Rizzo said.
Ironwood played tough all four quarters but were out-sized by the Knights on both sides of the ball, in part because of just how young this team is.
“We just got to try and get big up front that way we can get the ball to them (the playmakers) more often. Our quarterback is obviously a talent but we got a lot of skill guys on the edge that were hoping can get bigger, faster and stronger and lead this team a little bit deeper than we did this year,” Rizzo said.
Editor's Note: Hunter Kelley is a student at the Cronkite School at ASU