Paradise Valley coach Greg Davis never lost faith in receiver A.J. Smith.
After a pass just eluded his grasps in the end zone in a frantic final quarter, Davis clapped his hands and barked, “Make a play,” as Smith ran past him.
He did a little later. In a big way.
Taking a swing pass from patient and poised Daniel Bridge-Gadd, Smith broke a couple of tackles on his way into the end zone for game-clinching 60-yard touchdown Thursday night in a 33-21 victory over top-ranked Goodyear Desert Edge in a big early-season Division III showdown between the top two ranked teams.
Smith had another pass that he wasn’t able to hang onto in the end zone.
Smith’s long TD gave second-ranked Paradise Valley a 33-21 lead with less than four minutes to play.
“That’s why I love him,” Davis said. “He just keeps coming back and makes plays.”
Smith ended up catching two of Bridge-Gadd’s five touchdown passes.
Desert Edge (1-1) was without junior quarterback Tehran Thomas, who suffered a lower-leg injury in the season opener two weeks ago.
With a bye before playing second-ranked Paradise Valley (3-0), coach Rich Wellbrock had two weeks to get senior quarterback Alias Sturges ready.
Sturges had a couple of nice touchdown runs, but he fumbled a couple of times, and Desert Edge wasn’t able to get to Bridge-Gadd, who ran PV’s offense in shotgun out of an empty backfield all night.
PHOTOS: Desert Edge vs. Paradise Valley
Bridge-Gadd, using his quickness, speed and deft feet to go with a quick release, continually extended plays, waiting for receiver to pop open.
Desert Edge bracketed star receiver Jacob Brown the entire game, but that didn’t matter.
Brown still found ways to get the ball,.
He had two touchdown grabs — a 4-yarder that capped a 92-yard, 18-play scoring drive to open the second half, and a 30-yard catch-and-run, in which he faked out a couple of defenders, on his way to the end zone to keep Desert Edge in a two-touchdowns deficit.
Wellbrock called Thomas’ status “day to day.”
“I thought Alias did a great job,” Wellbrock said. “I thought we struggled in other areas. We struggled offensive in the first half, blocking people.”
Bridge-Gadd found Jim Dragon for an 18-yard TD pass in the final quarter.
“While I was getting bracketed, we had other people step up and make plays,” Brown said. “It’s a big win. We’re going to celebrate tonight. But we’re going to come back and get ready for Sunnyslope. It’s a long season. Anything can happen.”