Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016 | 12:51 a.m.
Tell 100 high school football players they have free rein to run the ball on a given play, and 99 of them will end up running the ball.
Foothill’s Kaelii Maruyama was the exception Friday night in the first round of the Sunrise region playoffs at Canyon Springs. Foothill coach Marty Redmond gave Maruyama the green light to run when he went to punt on 4th and 1 from the 50-yard line three minutes into the fourth quarter, but the senior passed on the opportunity.
“They were stacked, so I knew they would defend against it,” Maruyama said. “So I just wanted to try to pin them deep the best we could.”
And pin them deep he did. Maruyama’s punt rolled to the 1-yard line, where his teammates downed the ball.
On the next play, seniors Blake High and Jack Broyles teamed up for a sack of Canyon Springs junior quarterback Diamante Burton to break a 17-17 tie with a safety.
The game was never the same again, as the Falcons flew their way to two touchdowns before the Pioneers put together another first down.
Foothill 39, Canyon Springs 17.
“I thought we did a lot of good things on special teams,” Redmond said. “Putting us at the 1-yard line with the punt was huge and to get us the safety gave us the momentum. That was the really big turning point.”
Knocking off the top-seeded Northeast division champions meant No. 4 seed Foothill’s third upset in as many weeks. The Falcons’ improbable run to within a victory of the Sunrise championship game started with a comeback from a three-touchdown deficit against Basic, their Boulder Highway foe they’ll now face again.
Foothill will travel to Basic next Friday for the rematch that will end one team's season.
“Anytime we can play our rival, it’s great,” Maruyama said. “We’ll be ready.”
Foothill beat Basic the first time with its passing game, but switched gears on Friday night. The Falcons struggled to move the ball with their spread attack in the first half, as all their points came from special teams.
Maruyama knocked through a 45-yard field goal, and senior Brandon Hargis returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown while Canyon Springs racked up more production behind Burton — who had a game-high 250 total yards.
The Pioneers led 14-10 at halftime after Burton found his pair of senior receivers, Lazarus Kyle and Joseph Haulcy, for a touchdown apiece.
“We didn’t feel like we had many opportunities in the first half,” Redmond said. “Then, once we got them tired, we were able to move the ball a little bit better in the second half, especially with our offensive line playing great tonight.”
Foothill started on a 69-yard drive at the end of the third quarter where it ran exclusively running plays, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run from sophomore quarterback Jordan Wilson to start the fourth quarter. The score tied the game at 17, but what sealed it was the running of junior Isaac Oliva after the safety.
Oliva scored two touchdowns and picked up 98 of his 126 yards on the night in the second half.
“We went in at halftime, made some changes and came out on fire,” Maruyama said. “We really wanted it.”
Maruyama and junior defensive lineman Anthony McAllister led a charge that constantly pressured Burton, who was slippery in the first half but wore down as the game progressed. His final pass attempt was an interception that Foothill senior defensive back Marquies Jenkins, who also had a fumble recovery the possession before, returned 70 yards for a touchdown.
The safety seemed to trigger Foothill to 20 points in the final seven minutes. There’s no telling how the game would have wound up if Maruyama took off on a fake-punt run.
“I thought what he did was huge tonight,” Redmond said. “He’s such a great kicker and punter for us that we didn’t expect anything different.”