Preven Christon’s first instinct was to think he and his Maize offensive teammates needed to score a lot of points Friday against Heights.
The evidence supported that after Heights’ Jamir Johnson returned the opening kickoff 54 yards and K’Vonte Baker followed with a juking 27-yard touchdown run on the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage in the Class 5A playoff game.
“I thought it was going to be a shootout,” Christon said. “It felt like it was going to be really close.
“But our defense always does that. Once they got stops, we just got fired up.”
Christon, a sophomore wide receiver, did his part with 123 receiving yards and two touchdowns. But by the end, Maize’s defense had seized its share of the spotlight, forcing three second-half turnovers in a 41-14 second-round victory.
Maize (9-1), No. 4 in 5A, will travel to Bishop Carroll (9-1) for next Friday’s quarterfinals after shutting out Heights for the final three quarters. The Falcons finished the season 6-4.
Senior linebacker Antonio Espinoza capped a strong performance by Maize’s defense, scooping up Baker’s fumble and scoring with 2:31 remaining. Maize limited the mistake-prone Falcons to 164 yards on 59 plays.
“We knew the speed they had, we knew how Baker was and how good of an athlete he is,” Espinoza said. “We knew we had to take care of him to win this ballgame.
“We knew not to tackle him high. We knew he had a good stiff-arm and we learned that real quick after a couple of us accidentally did it, but we adjusted.”
The Eagles looked ready for whatever type of game was going to unfold, scoring 21 first-quarter points. Junior quarterback Caleb Grill, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 187 yards, threw touchdown passes of 12 and 18 yards to Christon, and added an 8-yard TD pass to Camden Jurgensen in the opening quarter.
“We felt really good,” Christon said of his connection with Grill. “We felt like we could dominate, honestly.
“Their corners said I wasn’t going to catch a ball, and it just made me more fired up.”
The scoring pace slowed considerably in the middle two quarters. Maize’s Ethan Kingrey kicked a 31-yard field goal that gave the Eagles a 24-14 halftime lead, then added a 26-yarder in the opening minute of the fourth to make it 27-14.
By then, Maize’s defense had established itself.
Baker, who moved from running back to quarterback in the second half, fumbled on Heights’ first possession of the second half. He was intercepted by Maize’s Tanner Ohnmeis early in the fourth quarter.
Then late in the fourth, while trying to throw the ball away, Baker was spun backward near the goal line and lost the ball. Espinoza picked up the ball at the 4 and ran it in for Maize’s final points.
The Eagles’ 17-point fourth quarter included a 1-yard touchdown run by senior Dalyn Johnson, who finished with 103 yards on 27 attempts.
“We got in the hole right away, but our kids were able to bounce back and did what they had to do,” Maize coach Gary Guzman said. “Our defense has been doing this all year long, so it wasn’t a surprise. Our offense had a great game tonight, so we kind of put it all together.”
Heights (6-4)14 0 0 0 – 14
Maize (9-1)21 3 0 17 – 41
H—Baker 27 run (Hatchett kick)
M—Christon 12 pass from Grill (Kingrey kick)
M—Jurgensen 8 pass from Grill (Kingrey kick)
H—Edwards 1 run (Hatchett kick)
M—Christon 18 pass from Grill (Kingrey kick)
M—Kingrey 31 FG
M—Kingrey 26 FG
M—D. Johnson 1 run (Kingrey kick)
M—Espinoza 4 fumble return (Kingrey kick)
Rushing—Heights, Baker 21-70, Hubbard 12-34, Sanders 2-30, Kirkendoll 1-3, Edwards 6-(-8), team 1-(-30). Maize, D. Johnson 27-103, Payne 3-4, Jurgensen 1-(-1), Ledesma 1-(-3), Grill 1-(-5), team 1-(-18).
Passing—Heights, Edwards 3-5-0-43, Baker 4-11-1-22. Maize, Grill 17-29-0-187.
Receiving—Heights, Kirkendoll 4-33, Baker 1-12, Orange 1-12, Hatchett 1-8. Maize, Christon 8-123, Payne 6-42, Doty 2-14, Jurgensen 1-8.