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Gators defense triggers fourth-quarter comeback

After a third quarter in which its pass defense was essentially nonexistent, Green Valley knew it was going to have to tighten up in the secondary if there was any hope of a fourth-quarter rally.

Not only did the 10th-ranked Gators shut down the Coronado passing attack over the last 12 minutes, the defense set up the final 14 points of the game as Green Valley outscored No. 8 Coronado 22-0 in the fourth quarter to earn a 33-26 home victory on Friday night.

“We just got some guys to make some plays at the end,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said. “We knew it was going to be a shootout, and it was just going to come down to who got more stops, and thankfully we got one more stop than they did. It shows the character of our kids.”

Green Valley (2-1) was scorched by the Cougars in the third quarter. Coronado quarterback Kevin Lucero connected on 9 of 15 attempts for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the period, with all three scores going to Jackson Cofer as the Cougars (2-1) opened a 26-11 lead heading to the fourth.

The Gators had seen enough. After Christian Lopez found a wide-open Kyler Chavez streaking down the right sideline for a 61-yard touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth to cut the deficit to eight, the Green Valley defense went to work.

The Gators limited Lucero to 1 of 8 passing in the final quarter. Green Valley was able to tie the game with 4:54 remaining when Sam McAloon sacked Lucero in the end zone and forced a fumble that Chris Ware jumped on for a touchdown. Chavez, who finished with 182 yards on nine catches, reeled in a pass from Lopez for the 2-point conversion.

On the ensuing Coronado possession, Shai Gomez-Simmons intercepted a Lucero pass and ran it back 33 yards to the Cougars’ 9-yard line.

Lopez dived across the goal line on a keeper two plays later for the decisive score.

“I think our kids just played hard and believed we were going to win all the way through,” Castro said. “The way we run our offense, our kids always think we’re in the game. We play fast and we just try to keep moving the ball. We don’t necessarily worry about what’s on the scoreboard. We just try to keep plugging away and score every time we get the ball.”

Coronado’s last-gasp drive ended when Lucero was tackled well short of the first-down marker at the Gators’ 27 on a fourth-down scramble with 1:27 remaining.

Nearly all of the damage was done through the air for both teams.

Lopez completed 29 of 46 passes for 401 yards, while Lucero finished 16-for-30 for 297 and four scores.

Green Valley took an 11-6 lead into halftime as Conor Perkins hit three field goals, including one as time expired in the second quarter. The Gators also recorded a safety in the first quarter when a host of defenders converged on Lucero in the end zone.

Coronado scored the only touchdown of the first half when Cody Mucino took a swing pass from Lucero and ran 45 yards for a score. Mucino and Cofer each finished with five catches for 123 yards.

Markus Varner had 11 catches for 146 yards for Green Valley.

The Gators managed only 28 yards on the ground but held Coronado to 40 despite a 46-yard run on the final drive of the game.

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