By Brittany Bowyer | Photos by Donna Mundy
History was made for fourth-seeded Highland on Friday when the Hawks defeated top-seeded Boulder Creek on the road in the 6A state semifinals, 35-28.
In a nail-biting, back-and-forth game that came down to the final play, Highland’s defense held strong, stopping the Jaguars on fourth-and-goal as time ran off the clock. For the first time in school history, the Hawks football program had reached a state championship game, something the team has been fighting to do for years.
“It’s crazy. I could never believe we’d be here at this point,” senior running back Max Davis said.
“It’s been a good, fun season. A long season. We’ve worked really hard and we’ve dreamed about it and now it’s here. I can’t wait.”
Highland got off to a quick start in the first quarter, scoring in four plays. The first touchdown was a 30-yard pass from junior quarterback Gage Dayley to junior wide receiver Jace Patton. An extra point by sophomore Crew Crockett put the Hawks up 7-0 just over a minute into the game.
Boulder Creek answered on the following drive as senior Jacob Cisneros — who had an absolutely outstanding performance for the Jaguars — punched it in from four yards. The kick from senior Danny Carolan was good, tying the score at 7-7 with 2:43 left in the first quarter.
Highland’s next possession resulted in another touchdown, this one a 21-yard pass from Dayley to senior Ammon Allen. Once again, though, Boulder Creek went to its attacking ground game to quickly tie it, answering with a 16-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Bear Milacek.
An interception in the end zone by Jaguars senior Anthony Cavadini kept Highland from scoring again before halftime, and Boulder Creek took its first lead on the first possession of the third quarter when Cisneros capped a long drive with a 10-yard touchdown run, making it 21-14 Jaguars with 6:20 left in the third.
That’s when the Hawks turned to Davis, who started eating away at the clock while racking up the yards.
“I feel like Max Davis lived up to his name, the unstoppable Max Davis, especially there in the fourth quarter,” Highland coach Brock Farrel said.
While it was Davis — who finished with 159 rushing yards — who led the drive down the field, the touchdown came on a seven-yard pass from Dayley to senior Logan Kingsford. The PAT tied it again at 21-21, but the Jaguars immediately regained the lead on Cisneros’ explosive 75-yard return on the ensuing kickoff.
It took the Hawks only two snaps to answer as Dayley connected with Allen on a 69-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-28 early in the fourth quarter.
Highland’s defense then forced a quick three-and-out, forcing the game’s first punt. The Hawks’ final drive again was led by Davis, who scored the go-ahead touchdown on a nine-yard run.
Milacek directed Boulder Creek’s last drive, hustling and doing his best to stay alive and find receivers. The Jaguars reached the red zone with less than a minute left and no timeouts remaining, forcing Milacek to spike the ball to stop the clock. He gained a yard on a third-down run, and with just seconds remaining on fourth down, it all came down to this.
From the 9-yard line, Milacek lined up and attempted to run it in but was stopped at the 4. It was a heartbreaking loss for Boulder Creek, but a long-awaited moment for Highland.
“Before the game, Coach Farrel said that we competed with the best, and now we gotta play up to their level, and we had to make Boulder Creek play up to ours,” Dayley said.
“Much respect to Boulder Creek. That was probably the funnest game I’ve played in so far this year, but our defense came up clutch at the end.”
Added Farrel: “I’m super proud of the way that we finished. We finished, and even though we had to work through some adversity at the end there, when it came down to it, we got it done.”
Dayley completed 12 of 17 passes for 215 yards. Davis finished the night two yards shy of breaking the Hawks’ record for career rushing yards. It’s something he’ll likely do on his first carry in the state final, the perfect place for a senior to hit such a milestone.
“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time, but I can’t do it without my O-line,” Davis said. “Without them, I’m nothing, so really, this is their award, not mine.”
Milacek was 8 of 10 for 88 yards. The Jaguars’ strength was the Cisneros-led ground game, where they racked up 198 yards.
“The players played until the end, and they fell just a few yards short in the end,” Boulder Creek coach Tony Casarella said.
Highland will face seventh-seeded Chaparral next Saturday at noon in the 6A state championship game at Desert Vista High School. The Firebirds clinched their spot in the title game with a 31-14 road win over Sandra Day O’Connor.
“Chaparral’s a good team. They’ve played in three fewer games than we have, and they’re coming off a win where they probably got to rest their guys in the fourth quarter, so it’s a big challenge in front of us,” Farrel said.
“But it’s the first time in school history playing for a championship, so I trust our kids any day of the week.”