For a second year in a row, the Tempe Prep football team concluded their regular season and marched into the playoffs on a lengthy winning streak. But unfortunately, as was the case in 2012, the season ended before the Knights could fulfill their championship aspirations.
In what has seemingly become an annual happening, TPA garnered much state-wide spotlight in the 2013 season. Rattling off eight consecutive victories, the Knights were labeled by many as perhaps the hottest team at any level of high school football in Arizona, in large part due to the remarkable final games of this stretch.
Heading into the final matchup of the regular season—a home game against section foe Scottsdale Prep—the task at hand was perfectly clear, but challenging: a win, and Tempe Prep would guarantee itself a spot in the playoffs. What ensued went down as one of the most memorable games in the team’s history.
The Knights held a slight edge throughout the game, but neither team gained more than a two-touchdown advantage. Both schools played fully in their respective comfort zones, as TPA relied on its bruising running game to amass 401 yards, while Scottsdale Prep remained committed to its passing attack, totaling more than 257 yards through the air.
Running back Isaiah Brittain played particularly well, crossing into the end zone twice on an astounding 184 yards rushing. The sophomore’s second touchdown in the third-quarter eventually proved to be the game-winning score, but not before a dramatic and tense fourth-quarter of play, into which Tempe Prep entered with a 27-20 lead.
After failing to capitalize on several opportunities to seal the victory in the final stages of the last quarter, the Knights gave their opponents the ball back because of a punting miscue with seconds remaining. With the ball inside of TPA’s territory, Scottsdale Prep quarterback Nick Smith launched two ‘Hail Mary’ throws into the end zone—the last of which somehow landed in the arms of his receiver, who fought off Tempe Prep defenders to convert the touchdown.
In this stunning turn of events, Scottsdale Prep sought to build on its momentum, and attempt a two-point conversion, not wasting any time to decide a winner of the game. TPA defensive back Gabriel LeBeau then knocked down a pass intended toward the left side of the end zone, securing the victory for the Knights. Though the team “made many critical mental errors” as head coach Mr. Brittain noted, it eventually overcame its mistakes and clinched a playoff berth.
In its first postseason appearance, Tempe Prep faced a very familiar opponent in Northwest Christian. After years of struggling against the Crusaders, the Knights finally broke through with a win at the end of the 2012 season. But after falling to their nemesis again earlier this season, TPA had to prove itself once again.
From the opening kickoff, the Knights completely dominated the Crusaders, scoring on their first offensive drive that nearly lasted the entire quarter. Along with some play-calling trickery, Tempe Prep notched touchdowns in each of the first three quarters en route to a decisive 21-0 thrashing of their rivals. Isaiah Brittain led the effective rushing attack once again, with two more touchdowns on over 100 yards on the ground.
Coach Brittain described the victory as “unforgettable”, and in addition to it being a step forward in the playoffs, “proved how very far we had come.” After being shut out by Northwest Christian only two months ago, the Knights completed their extraordinary turnaround, now holding the Crusaders off the scoreboard themselves.
But Tempe Prep’s phenomenal run came to a screeching halt in the following playoff round, getting overpowered by the Round Valley Elks 26-7 after a four-hour journey to Eagar, Arizona. While Coach Brittain acknowledged that TPA’s “inexperience showed” and that his team was outplayed, the Knight “defense played valiantly and the whole team battled to the bitter end.”
Despite finishing the season on a somber note, Coach Brittain affirmed that he is “very proud of this year’s team, and especially of our eight seniors, for the way they overachieved to turn around the season and to make the playoffs. Many of this year’s players were very inexperienced with respect to varsity play and they exceeded my expectations for them.”
*Published on November 26th.