A back and forth offensive battle in Gilbert ended with the 45-42 Higley Knights playoff victory over the Desert Edge Scorpions on Friday night.
Higley — behind top sophomore quarterback Jamar Malone — inched by Desert Edge after both teams took it to each other with blistering offensive displays during the quarterfinal matchup.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Scorpions battled back after the home Knights led for most of the 5A quarterfinal contest.
With 1:53 left in the fourth, #6 seed Desert Edge took the lead, 42-38 on a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Hezekiah “Budda” Millender to junior receiver Kezion Dia-Johnson.
The raucous home crowd was briefly quieted.
Then, Malone took off on one of his quarterback runs with one minute left in the game. He ran the ball to the 19 yard line.
Shortly after, #3 Higley used a Malone rushing touchdown to make the score 45-42 with a made extra point.
“You never stopped fighting,” Higley coach Eddy Zubey told his team after the game. “That’s tough to beat.”
The team “lost momentum a little bit” but was able to regain its composure, Zubey said.
The Higley head coach said the team has worked at handling adversity since the offseason. Now the Knights have a shot at reaching their first state title game since 2006, facing #2 Desert Mountain in Scottsdale for next Friday's semifinal.
“(We are going to) prepare (for next week),” Zubey said. “(We will) enjoy it (Friday night) and be ready to rock ‘n’ roll (for next week’s game).”
But the game wasn’t without controversial moments.
In the third quarter, a Higley touchdown run was called back after a offensive player from the Knights went out of bounds, came back inbounds and made a block.
The block paved the way for Malone get into the end zone.
One Desert Edge coach questioned an incomplete pass call by the referee in the second quarter.
“What is defined as a catch,” he said. “Clearly, that’s what it was.”
At another point, another Desert Edge coach yelled at his athletic director about what to do about questionable calls he didn’t agree with.
“I don’t know how it works anymore,” he yelled to the ref. At that point, the score was 31-14 with 1:39 left in the second quarter.
Desert Edge struck first with running back Chris Cordero punching it into the end zone for six points with 4:43 left in the first quarter.
At the end of the first quarter, the score was 21-14 Higley.
Desert Edge climbed back by halftime — trailing 31-21. Higley led 38-28 after a passing touchdown at the end of the third.
Both Malone and Desert Edge Millender were able to scramble and throw the ball deep throughout Friday’s game in Gilbert.
During the last drive, Millender fell a bit short at getting his team all the way down the field.
Desert Edge got a late first down and had the ball on the 47 yard line with 12.2 seconds remaining — is about as close as the Scorpions got to attempt to retake the lead.