ROB SCHUMACHER/The Arizona Republic

Sunnyside's Xavier Smith (center) is chased by Chaparral's Dustin Kleven (left) and Vince Marcantonio during a 4A semifinal game.

Sunnyside stuns No. 1, heads to finale

PHOENIX - The Sunnyside football team has talked about getting back to the state title game all season long.

The Blue Devils got their wish last night.

No. 5 Sunnyside (11-2) stunned top seed and previously unbeaten Scottsdale Chaparral (12-1) with an impressive 16-7 win at Phoenix College in the Class 4A state playoff semifinals.

For the Blue Devils, it was a chance to avenge a 20-17 loss last year to eventual champion Chaparral in the semifinals.

"It feels great. We're in. I'm really happy for the kids," said Sunnyside head coach Richard Sanchez. "Last year, it was devastating. We took one week off and we went right back to work. This is what we wanted."

Sunnyside will play No. 7 Glendale Cactus (12-1) at 12:07 p.m. next Saturday at Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium for the 4A championship.

It was the first win for Sanchez over Chaparral (12-1), which defeated Sunnyside in the 2000 state title game and 41-14 earlier this season.

The battle between the state's two premier 4A teams - the Firebirds also won state in 1999 and 2002 and Sunnyside was the state champ in 2001 - didn't disappoint.

Both came in with high-octane offenses, but it was defense that ruled the game. Just 465 combined total yards were gained by the squads.

Chaparral entered the game averaging 54.8 points per game and boasting an 18-game winning streak. The Firebirds were held to one score and 225 yards on offense.

Sunnyside quarterback Jaime Cota and receiver George Garza took care of the offense for the Blue Devils.

Trailing 7-3 in the third quarter, Chaparral lost the ball on a fumble on the Blue Devils' 37-yard line. Five plays later, Cota scrambled, dodged rushing defenders and hit Garza in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, Cota found Garza again, this time for a 66-yard touchdown pass.

"We wanted this," said Garza, a junior. "We worked all this summer to win the state championship, and now we have just one more game to win it."

Cota, who finished 6 of 14 passing for 144 yards and two touchdowns, is ready.

"I'm honored to be able to go to ASU," Cota said. "We knew they were going to come out tough, but we knew we had to play our game."

Sunnyside took an early lead after a rare interception by Chaparral quarterback Darren Mougey.

He entered the game with 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions, but he was picked off by Blue Devil Wally Altamirano minutes into the game after the pass was tipped.

It helped build momentum for Sunnyside and set up a 30-yard field goal by Richard Jimenez that gave the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead.

Mougey completed 10 of 27 passes for 134 yards.

"I just cannot believe it. I just know that interception set the tone for us," Altamirano said.

Chaparral scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Billy Beran late in the second quarter, a play that was set up by an interception of Cota.

Entering the locker room at the half, the mood of Sunnyside's players did not reflect that they trailed 7-3.

Instead, an air of confidence surrounded them.

"It was some good competition at first, but after awhile we knew we had it and we just started playing harder and harder," Altamirano said.

Sunnyside standout running back Xavier Smith didn't break loose for huge gains, but got 106 yards on 22 carries - and a little extra work on defense.

Smith stood in at linebacker for starter Marco Aranda, who tore his medial-collateral ligament earlier this week.

But he wasn't about to take the credit.

"It feels great and the win means that our linemen picked it up," Smith said. "We're really happy to be playing next week. That's what we worked for in the summer with all those hot days. That's why we made it."

Cactus advanced with a 31-8 victory over No. 3 seed Phoenix Washington last night. The Cobras also knocked off No. 2 seed Peoria Centennial last week.


No. 5 Sunnyside (11-2) vs. No. 7 Glendale Cactus (12-1)

What: Class 4A state football championship

When: Dec. 6, 12:07 p.m.

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe