“The tears are alright right now, but you should have your heads up. There is no shame, it’s going to hurt,” Walden Grove head coach Corey Noble told the Red Wolves following their 26-19 playoff loss to Casa Grande on Friday night.
“Don’t let this be the only thing you remember. You have done so much to be proud of. This is the best team in school history, the best record ever. You have done so much to be proud of this year.”
The Red Wolves’ 9-1 regular-season record and an undefeated 5-0 Region 4A Gila title allowed them to host Friday night’s first-round playoff game. It was the first home-field playoff game in school history.
The game was also a chance to avenge their only loss on the season, 33-21 to Casa Grande on Sept. 12 in Casa Grande.
Here's the game
The Cougars took the opening kickoff down and then promptly moved down the field. Walden Groves’ defense forced a fumble at their own 10-yard line to halt the Cougar scoring threat.
The Red Wolves put together a 12-play, 90-yard drive with the payoff coming on a 10-yard pass from Alex Lopez to his twin, Jordan Lopez. Nathan Alvarenga added the PAT, 7-0 at the 3:52 mark of the first quarter.
On the following Cougar possession, the WGHS defense (by virtue of two quarterback sacks), forced a three and out. Walden’s next drive stalled at the Casa Grande 15-yard line. Alvarenga was called on again, this time splitting the uprights to move the Red Wolves to 10-0, where it would remain as the first quarter ended.
Throughout most of the second quarter the teams battled eyeball to eyeball until Cougar quarterback Angel Flores scored from 10 yards out. With a successful PAT, Casa Grande was on the scoreboard, 10-7, with 4:06 left in the first half.
A series of penalties thwarted the next WGHS drive. Casa Grande would take the lead on a 60-yard run by Cougar Damion Allen; 14-10 with 51 seconds left in the first half.
Casa Grande ended Walden’s first drive in the second half with an interception, then moved 62 yards in seven plays to move ahead, 20-10, at the 7:47 mark.
Starting their next drive at their own 17-yard line, the Red Wolves moved the ball methodically down the field getting as close as 11 yards from the Cougars’ goal line.
Deep in their own territory, the Cougars took over on downs. Under the shadow of his own goal post, Casa Grande’s Flores dropped back into the end zone to pass. Heavy pressure from the WGHS defense forced him to air the ball out to avoid being tackled in his own end zone. The result was the same, being flagged for intentional grounding while in his own endzone, Walden was awarded two points for the safety, 20-12.
Casa Grande opened the fourth quarter with a time-consuming 80-yard, 14-play scoring drive. Walden blocked the PAT, 26-12, with three minutes and 25 seconds remaining in the game.
Fighting until the end the Red Wolves would score on what some would call a “hook and ladder” play, or maybe just a good heads-up play by WGHS wide receiver Ty McDermott. Alex Lopez hit McDermott on a 10-yard pass. As the Cougar defenders closed in on him McDermott pitched the ball to Jordan Lopez, who was streaking up the sideline and ran untouched into the endzone. Alvarenga was good again on the PAT, 29-16, final score.
“It’s tough," Noble said after the game. "I just wish I had gotten them a win tonight. But it doesn’t diminish what we have done in the last three years. Our seniors have built the program here, and I couldn’t be any prouder of them. This is a historic season for the school. We have a lot of great players. Some at the next level and a lot of good kids coming back.”
Noble said they knew what to expect from Casa Grande.
“They are tough, we saw them earlier this year. We just didn’t execute good enough to get it done tonight. If they were in any of the other regions in the state they would still be tough. No matter what region you put them in they would still be an eight-win team.”
Walden Grove ended the game with 144 yards rushing. Sam Martinez, nine yards on eight carries; Alex Lopez, 75 yards, 12 carries; Sebastian Adamski, 28 yards, five carries; Jordan Lopez, 32 on three carries.
Alex Lopez completed 17 of 22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Alex distributed the ball to five receivers: Jordan Lopez, six for 98 yards and two touchdowns; Ty McDermott, six for 51 yards; Alex Culbertson, three for 25 yards; Sam Martinez, one for 17 yards; and Duncan Hoover, one for 13 yards.