Originally Published: August 23, 2014 6:01 a.m.
Bagdad High's defending Division 6 state championship football team didn't disappoint in a barnburner of a Week Zero contest Friday night in Gilbert, holding on in the waning seconds of regulation to defeat stalwart Pima, 38-32.
The Sultans' win didn't come without some serious drama in front of a big crowd at the neutral site of Gilbert Christian High.
With 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter of their 2014 season opener, the preseason No. 1-ranked Sultans and their defense stopped the No. 2 Roughriders inside of Bagdad's 20-yard line to prevent a potential upset in this eight-man gridiron game.
Clinging to their 6-point lead with about 3 minutes left in the fourth, the Sultans had recovered an onside kick but failed to run out the clock.
Pima's D forced Bagdad into a three-and-out and the Roughriders took over at their own 40-yard line with a minute and 15 seconds to go, setting up the thrilling finish in what very well could be a state playoff preview come November.
Bagdad led 38-26 inside of 6 minutes to go, but Pima scored less than 2 minutes later on a long TD pass to pull within six of a tie after a failed 2-point conversion.
Even though it didn't affect the final result, the Roughriders kicked the onside figuring they wouldn't have enough time to score if they booted the ball deep in Bagdad's end of the field.
The Sultans sweat it out in this one, but extended their winning streak to 11 - building off of last fall's unblemished 10-0 campaign.
Tailback Justin Pacheco paced the Sultans offensively on Friday, scoring three touchdowns, including one on the ground and two receiving.
Quarterback Tony Jauregui threw two TD passes, running back Casey Jeans racked up two rushing TDs, and Brendan Garza also had a score.
In a back-and-forth affair in the early going, the Sultans and Roughriders were tied, 6-6, at the end of the first quarter and 12-12 with 5:32 left until halftime.
The momentum began to swing Bagdad's way late in the first half, though. With 3:49 remaining in the second quarter, Garza scored to hand the Sultans an 18-12 lead at the half.
After the Roughriders' fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, Bagdad recovered the ball at Pima's 20 and took advantage when Jeans reached pay dirt with 9:20 to go in the third.
Up 24-12 following a failed two-point conversion, Bagdad gave up a quick TD to Pima before pushing its lead back up to 10 points, 30-20, on a Jeans 3-yard run inside of 7 minutes left in the third.
But Pima kept hanging around, reaching the end zone on the final play of the period to cut the Bagdad edge to 30-26.
The Sultans and Roughriders played solid defense for most of the fourth quarter until Bagdad broke through with an 8-yard TD run by Pacheco. Following a 2-point conversion, the Sultans went ahead 38-26 with 5:04 remaining.
Bagdad will play at the NAU Skydome in Flagstaff versus Arete Prep on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.