Realignment gave Canyon Springs perhaps its biggest test at defending its Northeast League football crown. The two-time defending champs saw new competition enter the league, and it was no guarantee the Pioneers would three-peat this year.
What was made clear at Legacy on Thursday is that Canyon Springs still runs this part of town.
Jayvion Pugh ran for 123 yards and a touchdown, the Pioneers recovered three fumbles, and Canyon Springs turned back a last-ditch effort by host Legacy to win 24-16 and claim a third consecutive Northeast League title.
The Pioneers (6-3, 5-0) will open the Mountain Region playoffs at home Nov. 2 against Palo Verde (5-4).
“There’s a lot of great things waiting to happen,” Canyon Springs coach Gus McNair said. “We play the game to compete against the best. You want to see where you are. That’s what we want to do.”
Pugh’s touchdown, which proved to be the game-winner, did not look like it would cross the first-down marker, much less the goal line. He ran into the Legacy defense and was stuffed, then sprang loose, split wide left and bolted 45 yards into the end zone, giving his Pioneers a 24-8 lead with 11:21 to play.
“We’ve been working hard all year for this, and our team came out to play, and we executed,” Pugh said. “I did my best to stay on my feet, and my line helped me block.”
But Legacy (4-6, 3-2) wasn’t done. Quarterback Evan Olaes connected with Elijah Alvarez for a touchdown with 7:36 to go, and Olaes’ scramble on the 2-point attempt made it a one-score game. The Longhorns got the ball back with 1:46 and 60 yards to go, and they drove down to the 2-yard line before Olaes’ pass fell incomplete as time expired.
The Pioneers extended their streak of consecutive Northeast League victories to 13. The streak dates back to the beginning of the 2016 season.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs for us, and we haven’t played our best football, and I still don’t think we’ve played it yet,” McNair said. “We needed a game like this, though. I’m glad I got to see where we’re at.”
Legacy needed four offensive plays to get on the board first, handing to Jerry Martin for runs of 14 and 15 yards before Olaes dropped a 38-yard dime into Cahill Laws’ breadbasket to put the Longhorns up 8-0 with 8:24 to go in the first quarter. Canyon Springs answered when Xavier DeLong hit Martin Blake on a screen and Blake ran 7 yards to the goal to tie the game.
A field goal and a DeLong quarterback sneak extended Canyon Springs’ lead. Pugh then capped the visitors’ scoring.
“Jayvion was due for a breakout game,” McNair said. “Jayvion’s getting healthy, and that can be scary for the teams we play.”
Legacy starts its postseason run at Faith Lutheran (6-4) on Nov. 2.