Phoenix posts first playoff victory in four seasons
PHOENIX — Chad Daniels was banged up going into the Phoenix Pirates' Class 4A second-round state playoff game Friday. But by his performance on the field, it wasn't evident.
Daniels made a big impact offensively and defensively as the Pirates registered their first playoff victory since 2005 with a 14-8 win over Junction City on a wet, soggy field at Jack Woodward Stadium.
Phoenix (7-2) will host today's Douglas-Sweet Home winner in the quarterfinals next week. The Pirates opened the season with a 49-41 loss to Douglas.
"Chad was a playmaker today," said Phoenix coach Toby Walker, formerly the Pirates' interim coach who was given the full-time position earlier this week. "He is banged up, but he battled through the injuries. He made big plays on both sides of the ball."
Daniels scored the Pirates' first touchdown on a 3-yard out pattern in the opening quarter and played a key role at linebacker on defense. He finished with four catches for 63 yards.
Following the game, Daniels was on the training table receiving treatment for a pulled groin muscle.
"It was the closest game I've every played in," he said. "We really had to show our true character."
Daniels' TD catch capped an eight-play, 57-yard drive with 5:20 left in the opening period that gave Phoenix the initial lead.
"I scored once earlier in the season on that same play," said Daniels. "I was pretty confident."
Phoenix senior quarterback Chris Kammel completed passes of 34 yards to Austin Toney and 9 yards to Skyler Reagan before connecting on the touchdown to Daniels.
"They all bit on the play action," said Kammel, explaining the scoring play to Daniels, "and Chad came open in the corner."
The Pirates used over five minutes in the second period to drive 67 yards for their final touchdown of the game. This time Kammel found Reagan streaking down the left sideline for a 23-yard scoring strike.
Phoenix held a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Phoenix has relied on its high-powered offense throughout the regular season, but it was the Pirates' defense that was the story in the second half.
"Our defense was on the field all night long with their backs to the wall more than one time," said Walker.
The Pirate defense had to make a stand early in the second half when Kammel tossed an interception on a first-down play at his own 25. Junction City's Shelby Brown got into a throwing lane and intercepted Kammel's pass at the Phoenix 35 and returned it to the 14.
On a fourth-and-three at the Pirates' 7, Tigers quarterback Britt Bay threw an incomplete pass.
Junction City (5-6) kept the Pirates pinned deep in their territory throughout the third quarter.
Kammel made some big completions to drive Phoenix from its 1 to the Junction City 45 before punting. On a third-and-10 from the 1, Kammel hooked up with Justin Bohn for 23 yards, then found Jason Adams for 34 yards.
After taking over at its 24 following the punt, Junction City mounted its lone scoring drive. Senior running back Jess Lee came alive for the Tigers. Lee ran seven times for 54 yards, including a 4-yard TD run with 11:07 left in the game.
After two offsides penalties for the Pirates on the point after, Lee ran it in for the two-point conversion to cut the Pirates lead to 14-8.
"There was definitely a momentum swing," said Walker. "Now we had a battle, and I challenged the team to respond."
When the Pirate offense could not get untracked, Junction City mounted one last threat. The Tigers moved to the Pirates' 34, but on a third-and-three, defensive end Brendan Hurd broke through and forced an intentional grounding call against Bay. Then Toney intercepted Bay's desperation fourth-down pass and returned it to the Phoenix 25 with 1:57 to play.
Matt Lapat sealed the victory with a 7-yard run around right end on third down to pick up a first. Kammel took a knee to run out the clock.
Walker singled out the defensive play of linemen Joey Arena, Hurd and Kyle Treadway along with linebackers Kayl Grimes, Brett Carder and Daniels as contributing to the victory.
"Junction City is a playoff-tested team and we're not," said Walker. "They have run the ball down everyone's throat all year. Our defensive line did the job up front and our linebackers played downhill and made some good tackles."
In the first half, Phoenix limited the Tigers to 50 yards rushing and just two first downs. Junction City finished with 170 yards on the ground and 185 in total offense.
Phoenix was held to 32 yards rushing. Kammel was 16-for-33 passing for 249 yards with two interceptions.
"Offensively, we weren't clicking on all cylinders," said Walker. "But we made enough plays to come away with the 'W."
Junction City 0 0 0 8 —8
Phoenix 7 7 0 0 —14
P — Daniels 3 pass from Kammel (Hernandez kick)
P — Reagan 23 pass from Kammel (Hernandez kick)
JC — Lee 3 run (Lee run)