The Joy Christian defense forced four turnovers and senior quarterback Matt Mitchell threw three touchdown passes to Dujuan Lawrence and ran for another as the Eagles won the battle of unbeatens, defeating top-ranked Benson 27 – 7 to claim the Division V State Championship on Saturday.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Joy Christian head coach Brian Cole told Sports360AZ.com after the game. “In the second half I thought we came out played like we’re capable of playing; our offense made plays and our defense… is underrated.”
The two teams entered Saturday’s championship game averaging a combined 98 points per game, but it was the defenses on both sides that shined throughout the first half.
Early on, Benson dominated the time of possession and finally cashed in on the first play of the second quarter when quarterback Nick Hernandez scored on a two-yard run to give the Bobcats a 7 – 0 lead after the PAT.
Benson perhaps could’ve held an even larger lead if not for turnovers that ended two of their first three possessions in or near the red zone.
Joy Christian’s Arrick Dowe ended Benson’s first drive with the first of his two interceptions in the game and later, Joshua Keith recovered a fumble to thwart another Benson scoring opportunity.
The Eagles offense, which averages more than 56 points per game, was outgained for much of the first half, but put together a drive that was capped off with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Lawrence to tie the game at 7 – 7 with less than four minutes left in the half.
The Eagles, who received the second half kick, came out after halftime looking more like themselves on offense. They capped off their first possession of the second half with Mitchell’s second touchdown pass to Lawrence to make it 13 – 7 after the blocked PAT.
Benson’s third turnover near the red zone – a fumble recovered by Joy Christian’s Armando Aguilar – set up another Mitchell to Lawrence touchdown pass from 33-yards out to make it 19 – 7 with 8:09 remaining.
“It’s built ever since I arrived at Joy and it’s really developed,” Mitchell answered when asked what makes the connection between him and Lawrence so special. “Between Dujuan and Isaiah [Goodspeed] they’re indescribable talents and I’m lucky to have them.”
Mitchell closed out his four-touchdown performance with an 11-yard rushing scored to seal Joy Christian’s second overall state championship and first in Division V.
“It’s huge for us,” Mitchell said. “It was our goal ever since we came out; it’s been our goal these past years. Getting knocked out in the quarterfinals hurt for us, it left a bad feeling in our stomach but we came out, ready to work this offseason and we really came through and finished, especially on the defensive side.”
As the saying goes, defense wins championships.