Pinnacle football coach Dana Zupke said his team fully believed they could come back to Hamilton on Friday night and complete what they almost did two months ago.
After 26 minutes of play that belief was spot on. Four minutes later, Hamilton had punctured the Pioneers' resolve.
A 20-point, third quarter outburst after Pinnacle grabbed a 14-13 lead early in the period was the decisive juncture as the third-seeded Huskies reached the big-school semifinals for the 13th year in a row with 40-14 triumph over No. 6 Pinnacle.
Hamilton (10-2) advances to a rematch with Chandler on Friday Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. at Highland High School in one of the D-I semifinals. Chandler reached the semis by crushing Basha for a second time, 49-7. Pinnacle ended its season 9-3.
An inspired Hamilton defense that pressured Pinnacle quarterback Brian Lewerke all night andg rabbed three interceptions was key. So was an efficient Huskies' offense led by running back Tyrell Smith (three touchdowns) and wide receiver Elijah Williams (three touchdowns). That duo gave Pinnacle fits all night. Smith carried 22 times for 141 yards. Williams caught five passes for 161 yards.Huskies quarterback Sam Sasso was 11-of-18 for 200 yards and two TDs.
Still, Pinnacle administered some shock treatment to begin the second half by driving 80 yards in eight plays, capped by a sensational, juggling catch by receiver Cules Rose from 38 yards out. It was Rose's second TD catch of the game from Lewerke. By virtue of a blocked extra point on Hamiilton's second TD, Pinnacle led 14-13 with 9:51 left in the third quarter.
For the final 22 minutes, however, it was all Hamilton. The Huskies took 90 seconds to answer Pinnacle's go-ahead TD. A 39-yard reception by wide out Elijah Williams and two plays later a 13-yard TD run on a reverse by Williams put the Huskies in front to stay,19-14.
On Pinnacle's next two possessions, Hamilton's defense grabbed the spotlight. Interceptions by Sterling Santana and AJ Greathouse set Hamilton up deep in Pinnacle territory. Hamilton's offense punched in short drives of 16 and 31 yards — a pair of scoring runs by Tyrell Smith –boosting the Huskies advantage to 33-14 with 4:29 left in the third period.
Hamilton took a more aggressive approach toward Lewerke, blitzing more in the rematch.
“(Defensive coordinator) Layne Reynold did a great job putting together the game plan,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “(Lewerke is one of the best quarterbacks in the state, certainly as good a junior as there is. We wanted to put more pressure on him this time.”
Pinnacle totaled 113 yard of offense in the first half. Lewerke was 8-of-17 for 79 yards with an interception the first 24 minutes. After going 2-for-3 on the drive that scored opening the second half, Lewerke finished 11-of 35 for 176 yards. Hamilton sacked Lewerke six times.
“We came out of the gate strong in the second half to get the lead and then the wheels fell off,” Zupke said, “They mixed up their defenses more, bltizing and sometimes dropping guys back. Brian (Lewerke) couldn't get comforrtable back there.
“We came here with the confidence we could win. They took advantage of chances in the third quarter. That was the difference.”