Special teams weren’t kind to Arbor View on Thursday night — until they were the Aggies’ best friend.
Arbor View’s football team recovered an onside kick with 3:49 to play, and Jacob Speaks scored on the next play to give the third-ranked Aggies a 35-29 road victory over No. 7 Palo Verde to claim the Northwest League title.
“That’s when I knew we were going to take it over,” senior fullback/linebacker Jimmie Finister said of getting the onside kick. “That’s when I knew we were going to take it over and get the win.”
Arbor View’s Weston Gardner pounced on the onside kick, and Palo Verde was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Aggies the ball at the Panthers’ 33.
“Luckily that penalty went our way, and we ran sweep, and Speaks took off,” Arbor View coach Dan Barnson said. “But he took off almost with too much time on the clock.”
Rasheem Parks, who had scored on a 1-yard run to cut Palo Verde’s lead to 29-27, then converted the 2-point conversion run to put Arbor View (9-0, 5-0) up 35-29 with 3:39 to go.
And as it had the entire second half, the Arbor View defense held. Speaks had another big play on third-and-4 from the Arbor View 24, hitting Ryan Beaulieu to knock away what would have been a first-down completion. The Aggies then stuffed Andrew Simister on the ensuing play.
“He played here last year, and his family moved into our zone, so this was a big deal for him,” Barnson said of Speaks. “I was pretty proud of him playing both ways. It’s hard to come back and play against your friends, and he did a good job.”
The first half was almost all Palo Verde (6-4, 4-1), as the Panthers took a 27-14 lead. Parker Rost passed for a pair of touchdowns, and Beaulieu had a 55-yard TD run for Palo Verde, which also got an 8-yard scoring run from Lee Griggs.
But the second half was a different story. The Aggies held the Panthers to minus-1 yard of offense in the third quarter. Palo Verde managed 49 yards in the second half.
“The defense in the second half, we had to push to another limit,” Finister said. “They came out and were running all over us and passing all over us. But we found a way to stop them. We did what we had to do.”
Palo Verde’s lone second-half points came on an Aggies special teams misplay.
Salah Boyce fielded a punt at the Arbor View 10, but the Panthers punched the ball out of his hands. It bounced into the end zone, where Arbor View’s Jacob Parker recovered, but he was stopped for a safety that put Palo Verde up 29-14 with 8:25 to go in the third quarter.
A special teams mistake had cost Arbor View in the first half, when punter Jacob Bishop fumbled a snap and then decided to try to run and was stopped for a 1-yard loss at the Palo Verde 27.
The Panthers scored five plays later. Arbor View also was 0-for-2 on designed fake punts.
“Special teams killed us in the first half,” Barnson said. “And then you get the punt return fumble. At least we only gave up two (points). That was big.”
The Aggies forced a three-and-out after the safety and then marched 60 yards on 12 plays capped by a 2-yard TD run by Anthony Smith that cut the lead to 29-21 with 2:32 to go in the third quarter.
Speaks finished with 80 yards and two TDs on 12 carries, and Finister had 11 carries for 77 yards and a TD to lead the offense for Arbor View, which never had beaten Palo Verde in six previous tries.
“It’s amazing, and it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Finister said. “As you saw, we were jumping up and down victorious. It’s just an unexplainable feeling.”
Barnson clearly felt the same way. He told an assistant he was going to stay on the field for a while, because when he left it was going to be over.
“I’m trying to let it sink in,” Barnson said. “It’s a big deal. We’ve all thought about this, and this is what we thought about last December when we started lifting. This is a big deal, and it’ll sink in and be even bigger.”
Beaulieu rushed for 87 yards on 11 carries to lead Palo Verde, which will be the Northwest’s No. 2 seed in next week’s Sunset Region quarterfinals.
“Last week we were watching Palo (on film) already, and we know they were watching us,” Barnson said. “We knew that this was a big game.”