Updated February 22, 2022 - 10:26 pm
As Shadow Ridge flag football coach Matthew Nighswonger congratulated his team in the postgame huddle, he called up Mikayla Brown to be recognized.
He put his arm around his senior quarterback, quickly recalled the journey they had been on the past four years and how much he will miss her as the rest of the team cheered.
After the way Brown played Tuesday night, it’s easy to see why she will be missed. She threw for 215 yards and four touchdowns, and the Mustangs defeated Green Valley 34-14 for the Class 5A state championship at Shadow Ridge.
“Mikayla Brown has been exceptional,” Nighswonger said. “I remember calling her number as a freshman, and she didn’t blink an eye. She’s been a stud ever since.”
It’s the first state title in flag football for Shadow Ridge (21-3), which denied Green Valley its third straight crown.
“This one means so much,” said Shadow Ridge senior Breiana Bonkavich, who added the flag football championship to the state softball title she won as a freshman. “This is the first year I’ve ever played flag football, and I didn’t know anything. But my team and my coaches completely dug from the ground up and blossomed me into how I looked today.”
Bonkavich was one of three receivers to catch a touchdown pass and was also one of the Mustangs’ defensive leaders.
Makayla McEvoy caught touchdown passes from 1 yard and 17 yards on Shadow Ridge’s first two drives, sandwiched around a 5-yard TD pass from Soriah Tafua to Leila Casillan for Green Valley (22-6).
Riyana Johnson popped a 41-yard rushing score to put the Mustangs ahead 20-7 early in the second quarter, a margin they carried into halftime.
“I just saw the end zone. That’s all I saw,” said Johnson, who made two defenders miss after finding running room down the left sideline.
Green Valley pulled within 20-14 late in the third quarter on a Tafua 4-yard run before Bonkavich caught a 30-yard TD pass on the final play of the third quarter.
The Mustangs put the game away midway through the fourth quarter when Dyva Jones caught a 2-yard TD pass.
“It feels great (to have four TD passes), but I can’t do it without any of my teammates,” Brown said. “I know they’re going to get the job done.”
The Shadow Ridge defense did the rest. It limited the Gators’ big plays and forced them to march the ball down the field. The Mustangs stopped the Gators four times on fourth down, and Jones intercepted a Tafua pass in the fourth quarter.
“The defense made the plays at crucial times,” Nighswonger said. “There was one fourth down where Megan Reynolds made a great play out there that helped turn things around. Stopping them and limiting them to short plays was huge.”
In the Class 4A championship game, Liberty edged host Desert Oasis 12-7. Virgin Valley won the 3A title at home, defeating Boulder City 13-6. Virgin Valley had lost the first four 3A state championship games before Tuesday’s win.