Chargers Start Fast, Patriots Finish Late in 3A Central Clash

2 weeks ago Andrew Luberda 0

Finish.

It’s a word almost every coach, regardless of sport, preaches to his or her team.

On its Homecoming last Friday night against rival Benjamin Franklin, American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek erased a 14 – 6 third-quarter deficit, scoring 27 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to defeat the undermanned Chargers, 33 – 14.

A team can’t finish much better than that.

Patriots junior quarterback Izaiah Anderson threw a pair of touchdown passes to junior receiver Ethen Cluff while running backs Chris Brown, a junior, and Brig Nilsen, a senior, each ran for a touchdown during the decisive final quarter.

“We finally got some momentum,” Patriots offensive coordinator Max Hall said afterwards about his team’s late scoring onslaught. “That first half we kicked two field goals in the red zone, where if we could’ve scored touchdowns that changes the game. To Benjamin Franklin’s credit, they kept pounding the ball and pounding the ball, keeping the ball out of the hands of our offense.”

The Patriots took more than five minutes off the clock on their opening drive of the game, which ended with a Talen Rider 24-yard field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, the Patriots recovered a Chargers’ fumble that turned into three more points on Rider’s 26-yard field goal, staking ALA to a 6 – 0 lead.

Benjamin Franklin, which has been decimated by injuries throughout the first half of the season, had three new starters in the lineup, including sophomore quarterback Dayson Blair, who was making his first varsity start.

Still, the Chargers responded.

Sophomore Chancin Loving capped off their first offensive possession with a four-yard touchdown run, and after Bradyn Lemieux’s PAT, the Chargers held 7 – 6 lead. After sophomore Noah Badger recovered the onside kick, the Chargers had a chance to extend their lead, but a holding call nullified Chandler Miles’ touchdown run. On fourth-and-goal, ALA forced, then blocked the Chargers’ field goal attempt before the teams exchanged punts.

Benjamin Franklin’s Chancin Loving runs for a first-quarter touchdown last Friday. (Caitlyn Craig).

“That was a big-time (downer),” Chargers head coach Dave Jefferies said. “If we don’t take care of the football and get holding calls, those are really the only things that (stall) us.”

Rider’s 52-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the second quarter was just short, allowing Benjamin Franklin to maintain the one-point advantage at halftime.

The Chargers executed brilliantly during the opening drive of the second half, burning the first 9:32 of the third quarter before senior running back Zach Jefferies scored on a five-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 14 – 6.

“That’s the plan with what we run,” Dave Jefferies said. “That’s the whole game plan of what we do, typically. That went great.”

Unfortunately for the Chargers, what followed wasn’t great.

“We were going to see what our boys are made of,” Hall said about answering the Chargers’ drive. “The offense came out and scored, we got some momentum, the defense got a stop, we scored again and that was the (key part) of the game. I was proud of our kids for hanging in there.”

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

He’s back: Benjamin Franklin senior running back Zach Jefferies, who suffered a significant knee injury in the season opener versus Ganado at the Round Valley Dome, returned to limited action two weeks ago against Sabino, but appeared hesitant, according to his father and head coach Dave Jefferies.

Zach didn’t play a single snap during the first half against the Patriots last Friday, but he made an immediate impact once he entered the game in the third quarter. Needless to say, Zach is good to go from here on out.

“I felt like we needed a spark and he’s been cleared for about a week now,” Dave Jefferies said about his son. “It was probably a little early, but we put him out there to give us a spark. He should be part of our game plan now. He’s as ready as he’s going to be.”

Senior two-way starting lineman McCalister Loving is also ready to return from injury.

“If we can get those guys into the game plan, we’re going to be a lot better off,” Dave Jefferies said.

Score, stop, score again: Perhaps no sequence was more pivotal than three immediate possessions following Jefferies’ touchdown run.

The Patriots’ answered that score when Izaiah Anderson connected with Cluff on a 14-yard touchdown pass that appeared to be caught out of the endzone. A Chargers’ fumble on their next possession was recovered by the Patriots and two plays later, Anderson hooked up with Cluff on a 29-yard scoring play.

“Izaiah stepped up in the second half and made some big-time throws,” Hall said.

A pair of touchdowns and a turnover in 2:35 changed the game’s momentum.

“They gave me the inside, so I took the inside release and made a cut, caught the ball, and ran for the touchdown,” Cluff said about his second touchdown of the game.

Following his pair of scoring receptions, Cluff had a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown called back on an illegal block.

“Ethan is a gamechanger,” Hall said. “He’s a talented kid that can take the top off a defense, but at the same time he can break down and run comebacks. He’s an all-around great receiver.”

Carrying the load: ALA running back Chris Brown, who entered the game with 94 rushing yards on 13 carries, got the start in place of the injured Aziya Jamison and nearly doubled both his carries and yardage against the Chargers.

Brown, a junior, ran for 85 yards on 15 carries, including a five-yard touchdown run that increased the Patriots’ lead to 26 – 14.

ALA’s Chris Brown (9) ran for 85 yards last Friday. (Caitlyn Craig).

“It was Chris’ time to shine tonight, and he stepped up and did well,” Hall said.

THREE STARS – BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

No. 3 – Dayson Blair. 5-of-6 for 47 yards and a 104.2 QBR in his first varsity start.

No. 2 – Zach Jefferies. 35 yards on eight carries and a touchdown, all in the second half.

No. 1 – Cade Mcafee. Team-high four receptions for 35 yards, including a key 22-yard grab on a third-and-long in the first quarter. He also led the Chargers’ defense with 12 tackles.

THREE STARS – ALA-QUEEN CREEK

No. 3 – Brig Nilsen. 24 tackles, including a TFL. Two carries for five yards and a touchdown.

No. 2 – Izaiah Anderson. 10-of-16 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. 132.2 QBR.

No. 1 – Ethen Cluff. Five receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

HE SAID IT

“He completed a few passes (and) took care of the football. He did a great job.” – Dave Jefferies on sophomore Dayson Blair, who only played quarterback during two JV games as a freshman before making his first varsity start against the Patriots.

UP NEXT

Benjamin Franklin will host Florence in another key region game with the winner earning the inside track for the region title and the accompanying automatic playoff berth. The Gophers ended their five-game winless streak last week, defeating rival Coolidge, 27 – 13, for their first win of the year.

“They’re going to be hungry for a win,” Dave Jefferies said. “With ALA’s (playoff ineligibility), it’s going to be out of the playoff picture and other teams will have a shot if they can rattle off a few wins to finish and make the playoffs. I knew it was only a matter of time before Florence figured things out.”

ALA will visit San Tan Foothills (3 – 3), which defeated ALA – Ironwood last Friday, 20 – 9.

“It’s a chance for us to keep the momentum going and get guys healthy,” Hall said. “We’ve got some tough games to finish with.”

Kickoff for both games is scheduled for 7 p.m.