Joy Christian ended its eight-man football run with a bang.
In just its fourth year the Eagles captured the school’s first state title, and they did it in their final eight-man football game.
The No. 4-seed Joy Christian jumped on No. 3 Pima early and raced to a 60-24 win in the Division VI state championship game Saturday at Sunnyslope High School.
“The support we have from the parents, teachers and administration is just incredible,” said Joy Christian coach Brian Cole. “It all comes down to the players. They are the ones that make things happen on the field. We’re blessed with that.”
Quarterback Nick Henderson finished with eight touchdowns - seven passing and one rushing - and threw for 385 yards on 21-of-34 passing. Tight end Trevor Deason caught nine passes for 116 yards and four touchdowns. Aaron Martin caught seven passes for 205 yards and two scores.
The Eagles’ 2012 season was two-pronged. On one side they prepared for their eventual move to 11-man football next season with wins against Tucson’s Walden Grove (44-0) and Pusch Ridge (38-0) - both field 11-man squads.
On the other hand, Joy Christian wanted to erase the sting from last year’s 38-6 loss in the Division VI final to Joseph City.
The Eagles did that in the first round, drubbing the six-time state champion 74-24 in the quarterfinals. Pima has eight state titles to its name.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Henderson said. “To go from the worst feeling last year to this … every time we were in the weight room or at practice all that was on our minds was what Joseph City did to us last year.”
It wasn’t easy for the Eagles, though. Joy Christian struggled with penalties and mental mistakes in the first half and briefly trailed 12-8.
“We had a tough start last week (against Valley Lutheran) and we struggled this week,” Deason said. “It just took us a little while to get going.”
The Eagles got on the board first with Henderson’s two-yard run that kicked off a frantic 70-second scoring frenzy. Pima answered as quarterback Wyatt Reynolds found tight end Dustyn Brown wide open for a 78-yard touchdown pass.
Dakota Lines pooched the kick and the Eagles failed to grab the ball. Paul Espinoza recovered for the Roughriders and on fourth-and-10, Reynolds escaped a near sack from Eagles defensive lineman Cody Way and found Calvin James for a 28-yard touchdown.
Joy Christian ended the flurry on its next play from scrimmage after a strong kick return from Godfrey Mudavanhu. Henderson found Aaron Martin over the middle for a 55-yard touchdown strike. That gave the Eagles a 16-12 lead and they never trailed again.
Pima had a chance to cut it to a one-possession game in the second quarter when Jhett Judd ran a draw up the middle on fourth-and-seven for what should have been a 52-yard touchdown. However, the play was called back on a Roughrider penalty for too many men on the field. Pima was forced to punt.
It looked as though the Roughriders were off the hook when cornerback Clancy Schmidt returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown.
“I threw the interception, my second of the year, but it didn’t matter. We came back out and scored on the next drive,” Henderson said.
With the half winding down, Pima opted to push its offense and it proved costly as Reynolds fumbled on his 28 - recovered by defensive end Thomas Madrid - and the Eagles made them pay as Henderson hit Deason for a 5-yard touchdown with 7 seconds left.
“Coach told us at halftime to watch the unforced errors and that we could get on the outside of (Pima),” Deason said. “We just needed to stick to our game plan and that seemed to work.”
Joy Christian knew the Roughriders would try and pound the ball with its run game.
“Pima is a good football team and we expected nothing less,” Cole said. “We knew they were big, physical run team and that they were 10-0. So we expected a battle.”
Reynolds threw for two touchdowns and rushed for one. The Roughrider defense sacked Henderson four times and picked him off twice. Coming into the game, the Eagles quarterback had only tossed one interception.
For Cole, it’s his second championship in Arizona as head coach. He also led Phoenix North Canyon to a state title in 2005, a 27-16 win against Centennial.
“I won one at a big school but it doesn’t matter where you’re at, winning a state championship is special,” Cole said.