Silverado had managed two punts and a turnover on its first three possessions Thursday night, and the Skyhawks were looking for a spark of any kind.
The defense provided it.
Kusitafu Otuafi sacked Del Sol quarterback Troy Miller in the end zone for a safety on the second play of the second quarter, and the defense continued its outstanding play all night as the Skyhawks earned a 23-0 road win over the Dragons to clinch the team’s first playoff berth since 2007.
“The safety, that put us over the top,” senior defensive end Bennie Harris said. “That just set the tone for us and let them know the pain train was coming. They weren’t ready for it.”
Silverado (6-3, 3-3 Southeast League) is the Southeast’s No. 3 seed for the playoffs and will play at Canyon Springs in the first round Nov. 5. Del Sol (5-5, 3-3) is the league’s No. 4 seed and will play at Las Vegas High.
The safety turned out to be all Silverado needed, as the Skyhawks limited Del Sol to 118 yards of offense. Dragons running back
Chris Marshall entered the game as the area’s leading rusher with 1,706 yards but never found running room.
The Skyhawks held Marshall to 20 yards on 15 carries. He had one run longer than 5 yards.
“We just locked him up,” Harris said. “The defensive line filled the holes and held the gaps. We blew through the holes and made sure we broke down and tackled him.”
Silverado’s first turnover turned out to be a blessing.
The Skyhawks went for it on fourth-and-8 from the Del Sol 34. Backup quarterback Garren Albright, who was filling in for starter Savon Moniz, who injured his knee on the first series, tossed a deep ball that Dwayne Kirkland intercepted at the Del Sol 6.
Had Kirkland batted the ball down, the key safety never would have happened. Instead, Otuafi sacked Miller in the end zone, and it was all Silverado from there.
Ladale Jackson returned the ensuing free kick 59 yards, and a personal foul moved the ball to the Del Sol 7.
Then on fourth-and-goal from the 4, No. 3 quarterback Roger Price lobbed a pass to the back of the end zone, and 6-foot-3-inch tight end Josh Curtis made a leaping grab over a Del Sol defender to help Silverado take a 9-0 halftime lead.
It was Price’s first pass attempt of the season.
“He threw a great ball, and I can’t say how great the Josh Curtis kid is,” Silverado coach Andy Ostolaza said. “(He has) leaping ability to get up over people, and he’s got great hands.”
Silverado then drove 96 yards on eight plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Steven Scamorza on its first possession of the second half.
The key play on the drive came on third-and-7 from the Silverado 7. Price threw a pass for Jackson at midfield. Jackson and Marshall went up for it, and Marshall ended up with the ball in his hands. But the officials ruled it a catch for Jackson.
Moniz didn’t return after aggravating a previous injury to his right knee, and he left the field on crutches. Starting running back Izaiah Thurmon was “banged up” and did not dress for the game, but Ostolaza said he expected Thurmon to be ready for the playoffs.
Price completed 4 of 5 passes for 74 yards, and Scamorza (88 yards) and Dominic Molina (87 yards) stepped in for Thurmon. Fullback Corey Iwata added a 4-yard fourth-quarter TD run.
“Our quarterback goes down, and we go all the way back to our third quarterback, and Roger Price stepped up big tonight,” Ostolaza said. “And our running game between Molina, Scamorza and Iwata took over in the second half.”
The Skyhawks allowed just four first downs and sacked Miller three times. Harris had a sack and two tackles for loss.
“I can’t say how proud I am about the guys on defense,” Ostolaza said. “To shut out a team like this with a running back like Marshall, it says a lot about how we’ve got momentum going now. I think we can hopefully do something special in the playoffs.”