A Rio Rico team of seasons past, trailing in the fourth quarter to a Palo Verde team whose offense had not been forced to punt all night, might have been expected to wilt under the heat of the moment.
This season is different.
In a back-and-forth contest that featured six lead changes, the Hawks (5-2) rallied for two touchdowns and got a key fourth-down stop to defeat the Titans 30-21 and clinch at least a .500 record for the first time in school history.
Quarterback Sean Fanning led the way for Rio Rico, throwing for 107 yards and scoring on a late quarterback sneak to put the game away for good.
The Hawks trailed 21-17, but their offense, which struggled for much of the first half, was able to wear down Palo Verde (5-2) late in the game with a combination of sweeps, short passes and quarterback keepers. Fanning found receiver Dan Gastellum for a key conversion on fourth and long, and a few plays later the freshman was able to find his older brother Aaron for a 6-yard touchdown pass and a 24-21 lead.
“We talked all week about making history, and that’s what we did,” said Aaron Fanning, who also ran for 94 yards and a score.
The Hawks defense stopped Titans running back Joe Lewis on a critical fourth-and-short near midfield and clinched the game soon after.
“They had been killing us all game long with the same off-tackle play, but luckily we were able to call a
timeout and make a stop,” said Rio Rico coach Kevin Kuhm.
Palo Verde went into the break with a 14-10 lead after a hectic finish to the half. After Rio Rico ran an effective two-minute offense and took the lead on a 24-yard touchdown strike from Sean Fanning to Jose Valle with seconds to play, Palo Verde’s Rozario Martinez took the ensuing kickoff 84 yards to the end zone, regaining the Titans’ advantage at halftime.
Rio Rico heads to Amphi next week for the first of three winnable games to end the regular season.
“These are the best kids in the world to coach, and they’re committed to being the best team in school history,” Kuhm said.
Lewis ran for two scores for the Titans, who took the lead three times in the game but were unable to hold on.
“Hats off to Rio Rico. They just outplayed us in the second half,” said Palo Verde coach Todd Mayfield, whose team faces Walden Grove next week.