Pirates romp back into 4A semifinals
Nobody could have predicted this.
Not Phoenix and certainly not anyone in the prep football scene.
The Pirates, predicted to finish second-to-last in the Skyline Conference in a preseason coaches poll, routed Sweet Home 31-10 on a chilly Saturday afternoon at Spiegelberg Stadium to advance to the Class 4A state semifinals.
"Not in my wildest dreams," junior Kyle Treadway exclaimed.
Thriving on the underdog role and living by its defense, Phoenix held the Huskies to just 214 yards of total offense, setting up a gigantic matchup against No. 7 Baker next Saturday at a neutral site to be determined for the opportunity to advance to the state championship.
"No one gave these kids a shot and nobody gave our coaching staff a shot this year," first-year coach Toby Walker said. "We love to be the underdogs. Rankings and ratings are just numbers. We just go out and play football. It doesn't matter who we're playing or where we're playing."
Something had to give Saturday between Phoenix, which went undefeated en route to the Skyline Conference championship, and Sweet Home — a pair of football programs that have reinstated prestige after lackluster performances the past couple of years.
Entering this season, neither team had qualified for the playoffs since 2006. It had been even longer since they had won a playoff game — Phoenix in 2005 and Sweet Home in 2004. Ironically, those two years were the last time each program advanced to the state semifinals.
With a trip to the playoffs, and a win under their belts, the Pirates and Huskies — both unranked — came into their contest with an opportunity to continue to defy the predictions.
Phoenix (8-2), which, entering this season, had won only eight combined games in the three years since its 2005 playoff run, relied on a stout defense early and often.
In the first quarter, the Pirates allowed only 72 yards and one first down — a 59-yard catch by Sean Potter on a broken play that led to a 38-yard field goal by Alex Santana.
The Huskies (9-4) capitalized on another broken play in the second quarter, using a 41-yard catch and run by Potter to set up Keenan Martin's 7-yard scoring run, which cut the Pirates' lead to 14-10 midway through the quarter. However, that was as close as Sweet Home would get.
Phoenix gave up only three rushing yards on 17 attempts in the second half. In fact, the Huskies turned the ball over twice, failed on a fake punt and had a trio of three-and-outs during their seven second-half possessions.
"We knew what they were going to run," said Treadway, who recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter. "For the playoffs and the atmosphere that we were in, I'd probably give it a B-plus to an A-minus. We gave up some big plays, but we played our hearts out and we bounced back from adversity."
The Pirates' offense wasn't as efficient, but the quarterback-to-receiver combination of seniors Chris Kammel and Skyler Reagan got the job done.
Kammel, the Skyline Conference's offensive player of the year, was 26-of-42 passing for 331 yards and three touchdowns. The bulk of those receptions — and scores — went to Reagan, who seemed virtually invincible on the field.
"I'd have to say probably 90 percent of these games, if he wasn't on the field we wouldn't win the game," said Kammel, who added a team-high 53 rushing yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run to start the scoring.
"He's a gamer. He outmuscles kids. He has three or four guys on him and he'll make the play."
Reagan grabbed a game-high 14 receptions — more than his teammates combined and twice as many as the entire Sweet Home squad — for 214 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter that gave the Pirates some breathing room.
More than half of his catches featured at least one broken tackle and often a defender being stiff-armed, a strength that the 6-foot-3 receiver used to his advantage numerous times against the smaller defensive backs.
"You don't see a lot of receivers doing that, but it works real well," Reagan said. "I've been practicing all week on going north to south, instead of going side to side. Just positive yards is what helps the team and I was able to break a lot of tackles."
And when he wasn't pushing the Sweet Home players down or shedding tackles, Reagan was outrunning them.
After all, the Pirates didn't get to this point by being pushovers.
"We're just a blue-collar team," Kammel said. "We try to work harder than the guy in front of us."
Sweet Home 3 7 0 0 —10
Phoenix 7 7 3 14 —31
Pho — Kammel 15 run (Hernandez kick)
SH — Santana FG 38
Pho — Reagan 13 pass from Kammel (Hernandez kick)
SH — Martin 7 run (Santana kick)
Pho — Hernandez FG 20
Pho — Reagan 33 pass from Kammel (Hernandez kick)
Pho — Reagan 24 pass from Kammel (Hernandez kick)
Reach reporter Shawn Miller at 776-4469, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org