Rivalry games frequently are decided by emotion and grit, and that’s ultimately how Friday’s annual Cleat Game was won.
It took a late goal-line stand, but Chaparral held off a fourth-quarter rally by visiting Eldorado for a 21-13 victory.
Meshach Hawkins was the emotional spark for the Cowboys, rushing 14 times for 115 yards and three touchdowns. He was among the first to get his hands on the trophy featuring the late Merlin Olsen’s cleat.
“I’ve coached in the valley for a while, but I didn’t really know how important this game was until last year, when I was an assistant coach here,” said Chaparral coach Don Willis, whose team claimed the prize for the fourth consecutive year. “But I could see the intensity all week. We had that fight tonight, and so did Eldorado.”
Chaparral enjoyed momentum and a comfortable 21-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Sundevils quarterback Jalen Malone orchestrated a 67-yard drive that he capped with a 3-yard run to make it 21-13 after a failed extra-point attempt at the 7:54 mark.
The Sundevils got the ball back on an interception at their own 13-yard line a minute later and moved the ball to the Chaparral 3 with less than three minutes remaining. But the Cowboys defense did not bend, repelling two runs and two pass plays to force a turnover on downs.
“That goes back to our kids’ grit,” Willis said. “At the end there, our kids played harder than their kids. That’s what it’s all about.”
Eldorado, which finished the game with 379 yards of total offense while holding Chaparral to 228, opened the scoring in the second quarter on a 2-yard Michael Perez run up the middle.
The Cowboys answered with a 19-yard TD run by Hawkins late in the second quarter, and took control with scoring runs of 4 and 13 yards by Hawkins in the third.
“That kid is special,” Willis said of Hawkins. “The more he plays, the better he gets. He’s got skills you just can’t coach.”
The Sundevils had a chance to cut the deficit late in the third on a 60-yard pass from Malone to Perez, but Perez fumbled at the Cowboys’ 2-yard line and Chaparral took over when the ball rolled through the end zone.
Malone completed 10 of 22 passes for 231 yards to lead Eldorado, and teammate Guillermo Hernandez had five receptions for 90 yards.