If they can win their last two regular season games, and if Parker doesn’t beat Wickenburg this coming Friday, Camp Verde still has a shot at earning a share of the West Region championship.
Credit those renewed hopes to a stingy defensive unit, which simply refused to let the Dust Devils reach the end zone on numerous trips inside the red zone.
"We had that bend but don’t break philosophy again," said CVHS coach Luke Steege. "Whenever they got inside the 10 is when we stepped up. When we had to make the plays, we made the plays."
Charlie Baca might have made the biggest of the night near the beginning of the fourth quarter. River Valley was driving down 14-0 and finally looking ready to punch one in.
But Baca, a defensive back, had been schooled all week to be ready for a particular pass pattern. Sure enough that pattern unfolded, Baca stepped in front of the receiver and the senior returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown.
What could have been a 14-7 ball game suddenly was 21-0 in Camp Verde’s favor.
"Really, that was the end of the game," Steege said. "I felt pretty confident. They couldn’t move the ball quickly on us."
The Dust Devils did tack on a touchdown midway through the quarter and got the ball back at the Cowboy 25 with two minutes to play after a fumble. Predictably, though, River Valley marched to the 5, only to be halted on downs by the Camp Verde stoppers.
Linebackers Joey Jasman and Demetri Baca led the charge, playing some of their best games of the season. The Cowboys made three of their goal-line stands in the first half.
"They have a pretty good field-goal kicker," Steege said of the Dust Devils. "If they would have kicked field goals, they would have been right in the game. But they chose not to. On one play, they hit their tight end right in the hands (near the end zone), and he dropped it. We got lucky."
Camp Verde scored its first touchdown on its first drive. Jasman capped the series with a 6-yard TD jaunt, and the Cowboys converted the 2-point conversion.
Camp Verde also scored on its first series of the second half – a grind-it-out march that ate up most of the third period. A slant pass to Alex Lewis for 17 yards kept the drive alive, and Lewis eventually caught a 16-yard TD pass from Teall Haycock for the score.
Charlie Baca led Camp Verde’s offense with 81 rushing yards on 10 carries. Demetri Baca added 36 yards on four totes. Haycock didn’t throw as much as he did the past two weeks, but completed four passes for 60 yards.
River Valley obviously scouted out the Haycock-to-Travis Dixon combination that had worked so well for the Cowboys against Parker and Chino Valley, keeping a tight squeeze on Dixon most of the night.
"We didn’t really need to throw it as much," Steege said.
The win not only keeps Camp Verde in the playoff race, it also adds some points to the confidence equation. Things were pretty low in Cowboy country after non-conference losses to Queen Creek (42-0) and Coolidge (52-7), and the 42-26 defeat to Parker in week one of region action.
Now the Cowboys have plenty to play for with Sedona on deck this week and four-time defending champion Wickenburg coming to town on Halloween.
Wickenburg and Parker lead the region with 3-0 records. Camp Verde is 2-1, Sedona is 1-2 and both Chino and River Valley are 0-3. The top three teams from the West advance to state.
"The game with Sedona and us now is huge," Steege said. "If we beat Sedona, we’re in (the playoffs). We’re their homecoming game. Last year, they came to our homecoming and beat us 6-0. Maybe the kids will be thinking about that.
"But we’re not making it a grudge match. For both of us, it’s a must-win game."