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Vista Ridge rally falls short
Given the choice, there’s nothing that would have kept Aaron Johnson off the field for the biggest play of his high school career at Vista Ridge, his Wolves facing fourth-and-goal from the Monarch 5, trailing by a touchdown with just over 1 minute left.
Injured on a play in the end zone on a pass he nearly caught, he was helped off the field and relegated to a spectator.
The senior wide receiver, who caught 11 balls and two touchdowns during a furious fourth-quarter comeback, watched helplessly as Vista Ridge couldn’t convert, falling to Monarch 28-21 Friday in a home quarterfinal game.
“They’re probably bruised, but it hurts,” said Johnson, who had 103 yards receiving and touchdown catches of 32 and 12 yards in the fourth quarter. “We went out swinging. We couldn’t get anything going early, but something clicked and we just wanted it.”
The Wolves (10-2) rallied for three touchdowns in a span of 4:49 that turned a one-sided affair for three quarters into a near-comeback of the ages.
Senior quarterback Brayden Stewart tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Benson with 11 seconds left in the third quarter that finally put Vista Ridge on the board after falling behind 28-0.
The Wolves got the ball back at the Monarch 34 after the Coyotes gambled on fourth and 2 and Stewart found Johnson for a 32-yard touchdown strike four plays later that made it 28-14.
Monarch, without leading rusher Ethan Marks for most of the fourth quarter after suffering a leg injury covering a kickoff return, went three-and-out on the next drive. Then, a wild snap was chased down at the Monarch 19. Stewart tossed his second scoring pass to Johnson, a 12-yarder, four plays later to narrow the margin to 28-21 with 7:32 left.
Following another turnover on downs as Monarch lost confidence in the punting game, Vista Ridge found itself with one last chance at its 49 with 4:24 left.
The Wolves worked the ball to the Coyotes’ 5 in nine frenetic plays but that’s where the game, and season, ended.
“I’m proud that our team could come together and come so close,” senior lineman Jacob Hawthorne said. “We fought hard, and we left it all on the field.”
Monarch built a 21-0 lead by halftime, the product of a relentless ground game and timely passing that produced scoring drives of 78, 85 and 87 yards.
When quarterback Cole Watson threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Connor Fitzgerald with 9:17 left in the third quarter, it extended the Monarch lead to 28-0.
And that proved to be just enough on what became a wild night.
"We're relieved, and most of all, we're happy," Watson said. "It's the playoffs. You win. It doesn't matter how."