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7:36 PM Mon, Nov. 12th

Alex Nelson’s 1-yard TD with 37 seconds left ends Bears’ season, Mingus advances

Prep Football

Bradshaw Mountain’s Cameron Harris kneels on the sidelines as the Bears hosted No. 9-ranked Mingus in the first round of the 4A state playoffs Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in Prescott Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Bradshaw Mountain’s Cameron Harris kneels on the sidelines as the Bears hosted No. 9-ranked Mingus in the first round of the 4A state playoffs Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in Prescott Valley. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

PRESCOTT VALLEY — Bradshaw Mountain’s football team had a state playoff victory in its grasp on Friday, Nov. 2, but a few key mistakes by the Bears fueled rival Mingus in a fourth-quarter comeback that sealed it for the visitors.

With 4A’s eighth-seeded Bears leading 17-14 with 2:56 remaining in their first-round game, Mingus pieced together a six-play, 59-yard drive capped by senior running back Alex Nelson’s 1-yard touchdown run, leading the Grand Canyon region champion Marauders to a 21-17 win.

Mingus stunned Bradshaw Mountain at Bob Pavlich Field, where Marauders fans packed the visitors’ stands, earning the proud program its first state quarterfinals appearance since 2010.

The Marauders’ defense forced a fumble and two interceptions in the game, effectively containing Bears quarterback Austin Gonzales at crucial junctures.

“Our communication was on-point,” Mingus linebacker Kendrew Streck said of the Marauders’ hard-hitting, fly-to-the-ball defense. “We were picking up backside of the backfield, and we were just communicating better than we ever have.”

Gonzales threw two TD passes of 6 yards and 29 yards in the second half, both to Ruben Gonzalez, that gave Bradshaw Mountain a brief 17-7 lead with 2:37 left in the third quarter. But Mingus, which led 7-3 at halftime, subsequently scored 14 unanswered points, behind the timely passing of quarterback Antoine Zabala.

“This group has always been fighters – and it has never changed with us,” Zabala said of his squad. “It felt like we were meant to win.”

The momentum slowly began to shift after Zabala threw a 20-yard TD pass to tight end Kendrew Streck with 1:59 to go in the third. That cut the deficit to 17-14 and ultimately set up the final drive.

“At the end, they were playing good defense – our offense, we just couldn’t execute our plays at the end, and they were taking advantage of that,” Bradshaw Mountain’s Logan Brannan said. “And, our defense, they were letting up some big plays sometimes, and the momentum was just in their favor and they took advantage of that.”

Although the Bears’ defense played admirably, Mingus had enough tricks up its sleeve to score on its final scoring drive and hold Bradshaw Mountain’s offense on its last possession.

“We just didn’t execute on offense in the end, and we started slipping right when it got close,” Bears linebacker Noah Shaver said. “If we would’ve executed, we would’ve had it. But they’re one hell of a team. It was a hell of a season for us.”

The Bears finished their season with an 8-3 record. They matched the Bradshaw Mountain program’s record for best start at 7-0, but lost three of their last four games to end the campaign with a whimper.

Meanwhile, the ninth-seeded Marauders improved their record to 9-2, leaning on their stout defense.

“Our defense has shown to be resilient all year – they make mistakes, they learn from it,” Mingus coach Robert Ortiz said. “And it just always seems like when we need a stop or something big to happen, our kids come up with the play.”

Bradshaw Mountain last reached the state quarterfinals in 2015, when the Bears lost 28-7 at Sunnyslope under former coach David Moran. Mingus lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2015, 2016 and 2017. This time, the Marauders broke their curse.

“We were done with getting smacked in the first round,” Streck said. “This whole week, we were like, ‘Let’s end this curse.’ It’s a brotherhood. That’s what it does to you.”

In 2017, Mingus captured the Grand Canyon region title, but lost in the first round to eventual state champion Saguaro, 45-13. Bradshaw Mountain missed the playoffs in coach Chuck Moller’s first season last fall, finishing at 4-6 after a 0-5 start.

“There was a lot of good things [about the 2018 team] – an undefeated run,” Moller said. “We’ve just gotta keep moving, and move forward.”

UP NEXT

Mingus visits top-seeded Salpointe Catholic at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, in the 4A quarterfinals. Salpointe Catholic (11-0 record) eliminated No. 16 Apache Junction (7-4), 56-7, in their first-round contest Friday in Tucson.

Salpointe Catholic won the Division II state title in 2013.

Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.