Division V football state title contenders be forewarned: Beware of Tempe Prep.
The team will go flying into the playoffs following a 21-20 upset win over Phoenix Northwest Christian, arguably the top contender for the state championship this year.
Tempe Prep’s Levi Hartzler ran for a pair of touchdowns, teammate Ahmari Underwood ran back a fourth-quarter kickoff for another score and Tempe Prep’s defense set the tone in the first half. That and a blocked extra-point attempt made it Tempe Prep’s night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Hartzler’s first touchdown gave Tempe Prep (8-2) a 7-0 lead at halftime, and his 27-yard run with 7:05 left in the third quarter made it 14-0.
Northwest Christian finally got its offense, stymied in the first half time and again, on track after that score, driving for a field-goal attempt from the Tempe Prep 10-yard line.
But the snap was mishandled and the holder attempted to lateral the ball backward. The ball fall into Hartzler’s hands, and he returned it 50 yards.
Then Northwest Christian got a break. With Tempe Prep 10 yards from a three-touchdown lead, the defense recovered a fumble.
That play was the first in a wild fourth quarter. Tempe Prep seemed in full control until Sammy Serwa scooped up a backward pass and ran 39 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7 with 6:24 to play.
Then Tempe Prep was penalized on the kickoff, and just when it seemed like momentum had been lost, Underwood ran back the kickoff for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
Northwest Christian didn’t quit, its undefeated record on the line. Quarterback Kyle Shipp hit Trevor Osborne for a 2-yard touchdown pass, and Northwest Christian recovered an onside kick.
It took Shipp 1 minute, 10 seconds to drive the team for what was apparently the game-tying touchdown with 3:25 left. But the extra point was blocked.
Tempe Prep turned the ball over on downs, giving Northwest Christian one more shot with no timeouts left to drive for the win. Hartzler sacked Shipp for a big loss, and Shipp, forced to throw deep on a fourth-and-very-long, was intercepted by Hayden Harden to seal Tempe Prep’s win.
“It’s the best thing that’s happened in my four years at Tempe Prep, could be the best thing ever at Tempe Prep,” Hartzler said. “Our coaches told us we had this. … It’s hard to put into words.
“Our offense is not explosive, it’s not built to put 60, 70 points. It’s just built to grind, eat up that clock and win. It’s all about the run game, it’s about being physical.”
Northwest Christian coach Dave Inness said the loss might actually help his 9-1 team going into the postseason. Shipp passed for 212 yards in the second half alone, and Osborne and Brady Lorenz combined for 13 catches for 177 yards for the game.
“I just know we’re fine. It’s probably a good thing to happen to my ball club,” coach Dave Inness said. “First half was ugly, second half we played well… We still came back, still had the ball. They played great, and you know what? Our goal was never to win them all, it’s to win the right ones.”