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Running away with it: Vikings beat Panthers to clinch second state championship title in 3 years

Vikings James Eischen and Xavier Leonet block for running back Chance Pearson during the 1A State Championship game in Scottsdale. The Vikings beat the Superior Panthers 35-20 for the state title. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Vikings James Eischen and Xavier Leonet block for running back Chance Pearson during the 1A State Championship game in Scottsdale. The Vikings beat the Superior Panthers 35-20 for the state title. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. —With a Williams community turnout rivaling any home game, hundreds of Vikings fans packed the stands at Coronado High School Nov. 15, revealing their unwavering support for their home town team. The fans were not disappointed.

Alex Garrett ran for four touchdowns, David Lozano made three interceptions, Chance Pearson ran 212 yards, Luis Lara-Arredondo and Dorian Ayala combined for two sacks and seven tackles, and the Vikings defensive line forced six Panther passes to propel the Williams Vikings past the Superior Panthers to a 35-20 win, taking home a second state title in three years.

“It was just as special as the first one,” said Head Coach Jeff Brownlee. “These nights we never forget. You definitely don’t lose that feeling.”

To say the Vikings weren’t among the favorites to win the 1A State Championship title at the outset of the season would have been lying. The Vikings' maturity and talent base made the team an undeniable threat. A second state championship was always on the horizon as the team began chasing dreams after a semifinal loss to Superior in November 2018.

“It made us work a lot harder,” said Pearson. “We definitely wanted a rematch with Superior. That was our motive, to come back and show them what they missed.”

The game was a test of brute strength at times as the Vikings resorted to their physical run game to make touchdowns and their powerful defensive line to wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage.

“We’ve definitely put in the work,” said Vikings lineman Caesar Santana. “We’ve improved an insane amount since the beginning of the year.”

The Panthers felt the Vikings’ presence with hard-hitting sacks, bruising tackles and momentum-swinging turnovers.

“The pressure by Luis and Dorian, and Big John upfront kept the quarterback from just sitting back and throwing the ball,” Brownlee said.

Despite the beating, the Panthers routinely picked themselves up and returned to the field where they impressed both crowds with their air attack.

Quarterback Matthew Cruz completed 12 of 24 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, and after an injury to Cruz, back-up quarterback Adam Navarette completed 2 of 3 passes for 24 yards. Navarette also rushed for 50 yards and had 13 carries.

“Playing Arete Prep and other teams with a passing game helped us prepare for this game,” said Brownlee. “The week before Superior, we practiced over and over covering their routes.”

The Vikings, whose strength is undeniably on the ground, ran for 438 yards — split between Garrett, Pearson and Mario Vazquez.

“I was expecting a tough game,” Garrett said. “There was definitely a lot of back and forth.”

The team was supported by multi-tooled player David Lozano, who made three interceptions as cornerback, succeeded on 3 of 4 PATs, and kicked-off six times for 323 yards. His longest kick was a whopping 59 yards.

“David is a threat with his kicking,” Brownlee said. “He is a factor whether he is covering the ball or kicking. He can kick the ball so deep that it allows us time to run down and tackle them and pin them deep.”

Although the Vikings maintained a lead throughout the game, the Panthers were tenacious with their defensive stand and powerful throwing game.

Garrett put the Vikings on the board with a 20-yard TD run with six minutes left in the first quarter. But the Panthers answered, with Cruz completing a 20-yard pass to Joshua Marquez. The teams left the first quarter with the Vikings leading 7-6.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Pearson carried the ball for a second Vikings touchdown, with Vazquez making two-point conversion. The Vikings moved to 15-6.

“The type of defense they (Superior) play is up tight and brings everybody,” Brownlee said. “We couldn’t always lead Chance to the hole, we often had to use him as a blocker or a decoy and that allowed different holes for Alex to get through.”

A few minutes later, Otero caught a 67-yard touchdown pass for the Panthers to move the score 15-12.

Another Pearson and Garrett drive ended with Garret scoring and the Vikings left the field at halftime leading 22-12.

“Our front line played the best game of the year,” Brownlee said. “We controlled the line of scrimmage from the start to the end. Coach Ward did an outstanding job as our defensive coordinator.”

It was a battle of wills in the third quarter, with neither team scoring, but the Vikings broke the quiet in the fourth quarter when Vazquez ran the ball to the 5-yard line and Garrett carried the ball into the end-zone to bring the Vikings up 28-12.

The Vikings defense worked to keep Superior out of the end-zone, but with 3:05 left, the Panthers pushed through to bring the score to 28-20, making it a one possession game.

A final 50-yard touchdown run by Garrett, with savage blocking by the Vikings, solidified the Vikings win at 35-20.

“This is a dream come true,” said Vikings quarterback Kolby Payne. “To come out and be victorious after all the hard work we’ve put in, it’s crazy. This has been a pleasure, I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”

With 12 seniors leaving to graduation, the Vikings remain hopeful for another strong season next year with talented returning players that include juniors Garrett, Lara-Arredondo, Santana, James Eischen, Blake Smith and Cody Jensen; sophomores Nick Gutierrez, Jason Olsen, Joseph Siegfried, Xavier Shepherd, Jesse Hernandez and Preston Ford; and freshmen Danny Siegfried, Bryton Cox and Drew Logan.

“This trophy goes to the high school, but it is definitely a community involved sport,” Brownlee said. “Those stands were packed. I love my community of Williams and these kids played their hearts out for their community.”

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