Down by two touchdowns in the second half of a crucial game in which it had trailed almost the entire way, it was gut check time for Phoenix Thunderbird.
Led by a diversified offense and a defense that seemed to come together at the right time, Thunderbird responded and came away with a 34-27 win over Phoenix Washington in a Division III, Section VI matchup.
“This was a defining moment for us,” Thunderbird coach Brent Wittenwyler said. “We’ve grown up.”
Washington seemed poised to put Thunderbird away after Antwain Marlowe’s 66-yard touchdown run as the third quarter began gave the host team a 27-13 lead. At that point, Washington had outscored Thunderbird 27-7 since Thunderbird took the lead on its opening drive, but Thunderbird wasn’t rattled.
“We looked down the sideline, to see how our kids responded, and they had a belief in what they were doing,” Wittenwyler said. “They didn’t hang their heads and they came out and played well.”
Thunderbird (5-3, 4-1) began its comeback with a four-play scoring drive, capped by Jake Glatting’s 41-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Kaleb Hofer.
On the ensuing kickoff, Thunderbird got the break it needed as Washington fumbled the ball and Thunderbird players pounced on the ball.
Three plays later, Glatting plunged into the end zone from a yard out, and just like that, the game was tied.
As the fourth quarter began, Thunderbird got the eventual winning touchdown. Darren Dorsey weaved his way through the Washington defense for an 8-yard score, which was set up by a 47-yard pass on the preceding play from Glatting to junior wideout Adam Turner.
Thunderbird’s defense did the rest, turning Washington over on downs twice in the game’s final minutes. The defense kept Washington to its lowest scoring output since Sept. 6.
While Glatting (15-for-27, 256 yards and two touchdowns) had a big game in the air, Thunderbird used all its weapons as four different players scored the team’s five touchdowns. In addition to Glatting, Hofer (two TD’s) and Dorsey, senior running back BJ Pelt had a score.
Washington (5-3, 4-1), which saw its five-game winning streak snapped, was led by quarterback James Rasmussen, who had a brilliant game with his arm and feet. Rasmussen went 11-for-21 passing for 183 yards and two touchdowns and added 81 yards and a touchdown on the ground as he sparked the team to its early lead.