Canyon Springs came out of the locker room to start the second half Friday night looking for a spark.
The Pioneers found it on special teams.
Canyon Springs forced two fumbles and returned them for touchdowns on consecutive kickoffs early in the third quarter, and Zaviontay Stevenson had two second-half touchdown runs to lead the third-ranked Pioneers to a 30-7 home win over Desert Oasis.
“That’s why they call them special,” Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper said. “So many people think this game is about 50 percent offense, 50 percent defense. (Special teams), that’s a third of the game.”
The game was scoreless at halftime, but the Pioneers (3-0) scored on their first possession of the second half when Stevenson broke off a 48-yard TD run with 10:32 left in the third quarter.
The special teams quickly gave the team a cushion.
Raequan Bascombe put a big hit on Jake Peterson on the ensuing kickoff, and Marck Cassino scooped up the fumble and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 advantage with 10:21 left in the third.
Gregory Banks then forced a Rasheed McZeal fumble on the next kickoff, and Marcel Selmon returned it 12 yards for another score and a 20-0 lead with 10:13 left in the quarter.
“You’ve got to have a first-team special teams,” Cooper said. “It’s the biggest play in football. It’s the only play where you have man on man. And it’s about being physical, it’s about being disciplined, and it’s about letting it all go on that play. Any time you can get a 40-yard free run and make contact with somebody, something needs to fly off, either a helmet or the football.”
Stevenson added a 34-yard TD run on an option play on the first play of the fourth quarter, and the Pioneers led 30-0 with 11:50 to play.
“They came out and played with passion in the second half,” said Cooper, whose team was outgained 209-56 in the first half. “Old coaches used to say, ‘I want to hear you play.’ I heard them play tonight.”
Stevenson finished with 138 yards rushing on 15 carries. He had 97 yards in the second half.
“When he hits his stride, he has a little bit of Roger Craig, a little bit of Ricky Watters and a little bit of Eric Dickerson,” Cooper said. “This kid is amazing.”
Elio Gonzalez kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 30-0 lead with 10:46 left. Canyon Springs finished with 194 yards of offense.
Desert Oasis (2-1) finally scored when Blake Kutz capped a 9-play, 60-yard drive with a 4-yard TD run with 6:19 left.
The Diamondbacks racked up 353 yards on the ground but were completely ineffective passing, completing just 2 of 13 attempts.
Jocquez Kalili, who entered the game with 500 yards rushing on 24 carries, continued his strong work, finishing with 30 carries for 215 yards. But the Pioneers kept the Desert Oasis star out of the end zone. Kalili had scored 10 TDs in the first two games.
“I’m proud of the defense playing the way they played today,” Cooper said. “They kept us 0-0 (in the) first half, and we came out and were able to get the offense going.”
The Pioneers have allowed just 36 points this season.
“These guys, they play with so much on their shoulders,” Cooper said. “I couldn’t start to tell you what we could complain about or blame certain things on. But you know what, I coach them so hard. It’s almost unethical the way I coach them sometimes because I care so much about them. I know what this game has done for me, and I know what it could do for them. And this is their way to extend their academic careers through their athletic abilities. And these guys don’t take that lightly.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DamonSeiters on Twitter.