SURPRISE — Senior running back Chris Salsberry carried the ball 47 times for 317 yards and five touchdowns — four in the pivotal second quarter — and No. 6 seed Surprise Shadow Ridge (9-2) was able to survive a late rally to defeat visiting Catalina Foothills (8-3) 51-41 and eliminate the Falcons from the Division III playoffs.
Senior tailback Ty Cruz ran for 214 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort for the Falcons, who were returning to the playoffs under first-year head coach Jeff Scurran after finishing 0-10 in 2012.
“(Shadow Ridge) is just a better team than us,” said an upbeat Scurran. “They have one of the best running backs in the state, but our performance tonight was nothing to be upset about.”
Despite falling behind by as many as 21 points in the third quarter, Foothills found itself down just 42-35 with five minutes to play. But a botched snap sailed into the end zone on second-and-long, giving the Stallions a safety and a nine-point lead.
Freshman quarterback Rhett Rodriguez found Ian Turner for a 9-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 51-41 in the final minute, but the Falcons’ two-point conversion attempt failed and any hopes of a comeback were extinguished.
Rodriguez, the son of UA football coach Rich Rodriguez, finished the evening 13 of 19 for 211 passing yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The underdog Falcons were able to take an early 14-7 lead after one quarter behind two Cruz touchdown runs, including an 80-yard score on the team’s first play from scrimmage.
But thanks to two Foothills turnovers, Shadow Ridge, which abandoned the passing game almost entirely after an early interception, was able to dominate the second period and take a 35-21 halftime lead that it would never relinquish.
“This is the most fun football season I’ve ever had in terms of dealing with my players,” Scurran said. “Any time you see a turnaround like this, it’s because of the kids.”