BULLHEAD CITY — The River Valley High School Dust Devils’ defense and special teams helped lead them to victory during their Arizona Interscholastic Association 3A conference football game.
Junior Zach Hammett rushed for 107 yards on 15 carries, while tallying the game-winning touchdown on a third-quarter, 79-yard punt return during the Dust Devils’ 28-9 road victory against the Gilbert Christian Knights on Friday night.
The Dust Devils trailed 9-7 at halftime before Hammett’s game-winning score.
Gilbert Christian’s Weston Zierer entered the game with 775 rushing yards on 55 carries with seven TDs, as the 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back was leading the AIA — from 2A-6A, which is comprised of all of Arizona’s 11-man football conferences — in rushing prior to the opening kickoff.
“Phenominal” was how River Valley head coach Jonathan Clark described his Dust Devils’ perfornace by text message. “We challenged them all week to stop (Zierer), the No. 1 rusher in state, and they did.
Clark said his Dust Devils held Zierer to about 122 yards on 22 carries, according to Gilbert Christian’s stats, and held Gilbert Christian to 179 yards total offense, its lowest of the season.
“Zierer had one big run of 43 yards but other than that, he was 21 for 79 yards — or so,” Clark said. “We rode our defense to a victory. (I) couldn’t be more proud of my coaching staff for helping to prepare these boys this week.”
Zierer averaged 14.1 yards per play going into the River Valey game for the 3-2 overall, 0-1 in the 3A Metro Region.
“We held him to under 7 yards per play,” Clark said.
The second-year River Valley head coach gave credit to the Dust Devils’ defensive linemen for their effort in controlling the line of scrimmage.
“We ran a 60 front, but our defensive line did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage,” Clark said.
Nick Love, Austin Sturdivant, Damon Parks, Andrew Cervantes and Seth Rettig all shared time between the tackles.
“They sacrificed their bodies to keep our linebackers free from blocks, allowing the linebackers to flow, pursue and tackle,” Clark said. “They are the unsung heroes.”
The Dust Devils’ offense kept the ball out of the Knights’ hands, which also helped River Valley keep the state’s leading rusher off the field.
“We were able to get a few first downs on every drive all night but couldn’t sustain a drive,” Clark said. “In the third and fourth quarter, we had a huge punt return for a TD by Hammett and later a pick six by Alex Castillo.”
Senior defensive back Alex Castillo returned an interception for a touchdown with 8 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, which put River Valley ahead 21-9.
“Castillo’s was (for) around 70 yards and I’m telling you that we had to have five beautiful blocks to set him (free),” Clark said. “The entire defense laid it on the line to get him in the end zone.
“I want to stress the blocking because, to me, that demonstrates selflessness.”
Clark said River Valley’s offense capped off the scoring with a 45-yard drive when senior running back Isaac Miller scored on an 8-yard TD run, which made it 28-7 with about 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“That iced the game for us,” Clark said.
Miller also scored on a 6-yard TD run, which accounted for River Valley’s only first-half points, as the 3-1 overall, 0-0 in the 3A West Region Dust Devils went into halftime trailing 9-7.
“It was a total team win,” Clark said. “We had scoring in all three phases of the game — boys battled a very well coached team and held it together on the road in hostile territory.”
Statistics, play by play courtesy of Clark