SCOTTSDALE — Thirty-nine years.
That was how long it had been since Round Valley High School claimed a state football championship.
The Elks had come so tantalizingly close before. The Arizona Interscholastic Association 2A Championship at Coronado High School on Friday, Dec. 6, marked the fourth time Round Valley has been in the 2A final in the past seven years, including three of the last four seasons.
The Elks’ title drought ended in dramatic fashion in last Friday’s final.
Round Valley overcame a 28-13 deficit with 21 unanswered points in the final 13 minutes to defeat Phoenix Christian, 34-28.
The Elks’ seniors came up big in the victory, as the top seed got two touchdowns from quarterback Tayvin Bevell, two TD’s and a run for a two-point conversion by Marc Irigoyen, and an extra point and a pair of field goals by Sergio Camunez.
“I was tired of (losing in the final). This is my third time being here and I just got tired of it. And thanks to my teammates we got it,” Bevell said. “It was just all heart.”
Round Valley punted only once in the title game — on the first series of the contest. The Cougars drove 72 yards in 10 plays on No. 3 Phoenix Christian’s first offensive series to open the scoring. Senior running back Man-man Freeman, the 2A rushing leader (third in the state for all divisions), capped the drive with a 1-yard run up the middle.
The Elks responded with a 14-play drive that stalled on a holding penalty, and Camunez kicked a 35-yard field goal to make the score 7-3 with 11 minutes left in the first half.
Round Valley took the lead six plays later after recovering a Cougar fumble at the Phoenix Christian 8 yard line. Irigoyen scored on a 1-yard run on a fourth-down play and the Elks went up 10-7 with 8:16 left in the second quarter.
The Cougars responded with a 13-play, 80-yard drive to retake the lead with 2:06 left before halftime. Freeman ran 2 yards for the TD and PC led 14-10 at the half.
Four plays after the Cougars received the second-half kickoff, junior running back Howard Russell raced 42 yards for a touchdown and PC took a 21-10 lead with 10:10 left in the third quarter.
Round Valley drove to inside the Cougar 20 on the next series, but had to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Camunez, which cut the lead to 21-13 with 6:23 left in the third.
On the ensuing possession, Russell scored on a 44-yard romp to cap an eight-play, 87-yard drive and help give the Cougars a 28-13 lead with 2:25 left in the third.
But the Elks had more fuel left in their tanks.
A 39-yard kickoff return by sophomore Jovan Ortiz set up a three-play, 53-yard scoring drive. Bevell got free along the sideline and raced 45 yards for a touchdown and Camunez’ point-after made it 28-20 with 43.2 seconds left in the third.
Senior defensive lineman Trevor Wilson tackled Russell for a loss on the first play of the next series, and Freeman recovered his own fumble for a short gain, and the Cougars were forced to punt.
“I went to the sideline (after Bevell’s TD) and I said ‘we have to get back there and hit them. We make a stop, we win the game,’” Wilson said. “That (tackle for a loss) changed the whole game. We just took it from there.”
Round Valley scored in nine plays to tie it with 6:02 left in the game. Bevell capped the drive with an 8-yard keeper and Irigoyen ran for the two-point conversion to make it 28-28.
The Elks stuffed Freeman for no gain on the first play of the next series, and after two incomplete passes, the Cougars were forced to punt again.
The punt was partially blocked, setting up a five-play, 41-yard, game-winning drive by Round Valley. Irigoyen, who ran four times during the series, bowled over several would-be tacklers and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 28-yard run.
“On the 28-yard run, I just knew I had to give it my all,” Irigoyen said. “I said ‘if I don’t score right now, then they have a chance to come back and win it.’
Camunez missed the PAT, leaving the score 34-28 with 2:06 left. The Cougars were unable to sustain anything offensively, and the Elks took over on downs and ran out the clock.
“When we heard the game got rescheduled, we just took it as an opportunity to get better,” Wilson said. “We’ve been through adversity all year. We won close games and we won blowouts. We knew what we had to do to win and we fixed our problems and won.”
Each team exploited their powerful rushing attack.
The Elks amassed 305 total yards, including 296 on the ground. Bevell led the team with 164 yards on 21 carries. Irigoyen had 107 yards on 17 carries.
Phoenix Christian, which advanced to the title game for the first time since 2008, had 310 total yards. Russell led the team with 154 yards on 10 carries. Freeman had 138 yards on 21 carries. Quarterback Adrian Fleming completed just two of 10 passes for 8 yards.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. We didn’t expect anything less from Phoenix Christian to come out and score because Man-man and Russell are freaks of nature,” Irigoyen said. “All we had to do was keep our heads up and hope our defense could get a stop when we needed it, and our offense could run it down their throat.”
Irigoyen gave credit to his linemen, who made great improvement during the season.
“My linemen, they are studs, I love them to death. Coach (Robert) Haws is an amazing line coach — probably one of the best in the state. He can take anyone who doesn’t know anything about the offensive line and make them a state champ. We actually have a freshman on the line, Keanu Clark. And we have Trevor Wilson, Denilson Wilkins, J.P. McCall and “Pancake” Jadon Cisco. They are amazing.
The win clinched Round Valley’s first state football championship since 1980, when the Elks shared the 3A state title with Snowflake. This year’s state title is the seventh for the Elks since 1964, which was the first year for 2A playoffs.