Foothill’s flag football team often has relied on its high-powered offense to win games this season.
But it was the Falcons’ defense that stepped up Monday.
Led by senior linebacker Taeondra Johnson’s nine tackles and four sacks, the Falcons held on for a 13-7 win over Coronado in the Division I Sunrise Region final at Rancho High.
Foothill (24-1) will play Sunset League champion Centennial (22-3) in the Clark County School District final at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Rancho.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times,” said Foothill coach Cynthia Guzman, whose team beat Coronado twice during the season. “But we came out winners. I don’t care what the score looks like. We’re moving on and we’re just glad to be here.”
Coronado had a chance to tie — and perhaps win the game — when Brittany Whitt intercepted Foothill quarterback Jadyn McArthur at the Falcons’ 37-yard line and returned it 10 yards with 2:25 remaining.
The Cougars, trailing 13-7, got down to the 10-yard line on five plays but couldn’t convert a fourth-and-goal at the 10-yard line with 17.7 seconds left. Coronado’s Heaven Lucero completed a check-down pass to Alexandrea Hondo, who was stopped at the 4-yard line by Foothill senior Sarena Ulibarri.
Ulibarri finished with nine tackles for the Falcons.
“It was a lot tighter than we expected,” Guzman said. “We knew they were going to challenge us and study film. We drove the ball all the way down every time we had possession, but a couple of them we didn’t punch in. We could have had two more touchdowns.”
Foothill’s offense never found a rhythm, and was stopped twice inside the 5-yard line in the opening half.
“I think we struggled on offense because (Coronado) was a little bit more physical than we expected them to be,” Guzman said. “The other two times we played them, they weren’t very physical. We kind of pushed them around.”
Coronado’s defense set the tone early by stopping Foothill on its first two offensive possessions. The Cougars got a three-and-out on the Falcons’ opening drive.
The Falcons eventually broke through with 10:15 to go in the first half, when McArthur threw a 4-yard pass to Sydney Babakitis in the right corner of the end zone on fourth down for a 7-0 lead.
Coronado’s Hondo answered with a 1-yard plunge to make it 7-7 with 2:50 to go, and the score remained tied at halftime after Foothill turned the ball over on downs at the Cougars’ 4-yard line.
Coronado punted on its opening possession of the second half, and Foothill’s Chloe Collins scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 13-7 with 23:09 to go.
The Cougars (15-6) threatened soon after and made it down to the Foothill 2-yard line with 14:39 left. But facing a fourth-and-2, Lucero was sacked by Johnson to end the threat.
McArthur completed 11 of 19 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown and ran for 61 yards on seven carries for Foothill. Babakitis had four catches for 51 yards, and Marissa Spatafore rushed seven times for 38 yards for the Falcons.
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson