Originally Published: November 17, 2013 7 a.m.
PHOENIX - It may not have always been pretty, but the Bagdad High football team would not be denied in its quest for a state championship Saturday night at Shadow Mountain H.S.
Despite committing 12 penalties for 125 yards in losses, the Sultans overcame their miscues thanks to their big-play offense and staunch defense en route to a thrilling 44-20 victory over Heber Mogollon to claim the Division 6 title and cap an undefeated 2013 season.
Junior quarterback Tony Jauregui completed 9-of-12 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns, connecting with senior wideout Kody Low four times for 137 yards and two TDs and senior WR James Loveall three times for 64 yards and two TDs, in the rout.
"I just knew we had some of the best athletes in the state, and all I had to do was protect the ball and get the ball to those athletes," Jauregui said afterward. "They made it real easy on me with how good they were."
Bagdad racked up 446 total yards behind a balanced attack. On the ground, junior tailback Casey Jeans also impressed, registering 162 yards on 26 carries. Bruising fullback Justin Pacheco, who was fighting off a nagging knee injury, had only eight totes but ran for 36 yards and a pair of 1-yard TDs.
"I knew that I was going to have to go through the pain and do what I can just so we could win this game," Pacheco said. "They had many weapons, and we just had to come through. It was a team effort."
Meanwhile, the Sultans' defense limited high-scoring Mogollon to just 268 total yards. Star Mustangs tailback Dallyn Despain, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards this season, was held to 30 carries for 119 yards and two TDs.
Bagdad's physical, heavy-hitting D did not disappoint, shutting out Mogollon in the first and fourth quarters.
No. 3-seed Bagdad finished its season with an unblemished 10-0 overall record, while snapping No. 5 Mogollon's nine-game winning streak. The Mustangs ended the fall with a 10-2 mark.
The Sultans got off to a fast start, which helped give them some early momentum.
They grabbed a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter after taking advantage of a Mogollon fake punt on fourth down in which QB Jimmy Adams threw an incompletion over the middle.
Leading 8-0, Bagdad got the ball back on the Mustangs' 29 and promptly scored on a short six-play drive capped by a Pacheco TD.
But Mogollon kept hanging around in this one until late in the third quarter.
Up 20-14 at halftime, the Sultans scored on their opening drive, as they benefited from a gorgeous play fake from Jauregui, who lofted a deep pass into the end zone to a diving Low for the score. After Jauregui scored the 2-point conversion, Bagdad went up 28-14 and put pressure on the Mustangs to find some answers.
"I've had full confidence in Tony this whole year," Low said. "Coming in as a first-year starter, he didn't throw many interceptions, which boosted our confidence. He got it done for us."
Bagdad committed only one turnover on the night, but it came at a crucial juncture deep in its own end of the field. Mogollon's Ty Ruebush recovered the cough-up and ran it all the way to the Sultans' 3-yard line.
Two plays later, Despain scored to trim the Bagdad edge to 28-20.
However, once again, the Sultans' big-play offense was there to answer the call on their ensuing possession.
"They threw the ball well, but I think they knew they could run it when they wanted to, and that's a big key," Mogollon coach Tim Slade said. "If you know you can run it at will, then you can take your shots down the field, which they were able to do. They completed those passes."
Two long pass plays, a 36-yarder from Jauregui to Pacheco and a 49-yard TD strike from Jauregui to Loveall on a third-and-37 to the deep left side of the field put the Sultans up 36-20 and set the stage for Bagdad to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
The Sultans forced Mogollon to turn the ball over on downs early in the final frame and then they went on an incredible time-consuming drive that went from the 10:27 mark to 2:19 remaining in regulation.
Pacheco polished off Bagdad's final possession with another 1-yard TD run for the 44-20 lead that stood.
The Mustangs tried to score one more time, but with 42 seconds left on a fourth-and-9, cornerback E.A. Fonte intercepted Adams as the celebration ensued.
At the end of the game, second-year Bagdad coach Dalton Mills received a well-deserved Gatorade bath from his players.
"These kids have been working hard, and they've been close a lot," Mills said. "I'm just so happy for them."