Through seven weeks of the season, the Lake Havasu football team looked nearly unstoppable with seven consecutive victories.
That winning streak came to a close Friday.
The season came to a disappointing end for No. 5 Havasu with a 35-21 upset loss to No. 12 Canyon del Oro in the first round of the Class 4A State playoffs.
“They came out really strong and really aggressive,” Knights quarterback Austin Head said. “We played our best, but they played a better game.”
It was an emotional exit for seniors from the purple and gold. As they were walking off the field, the opposing Dorados celebrated with a well-traveled crowd from the Tucson area. They were proudly chanting “CDO” as the final seconds ticked.
After the Havasu crowd congratulated the Knights on an entertaining 7-2 season, seniors such as Head, Cody Pellaton and Brenton Szymanski all soaked in their final minutes on the field at Lee Barnes Stadium.
“It was a fun ride,” Pellaton said.
Szymanski said he’ll forever cherish his memories from his senior season.
“I’ll be able to tell my kids about these moments,” Szymanski said. “I learned a lesson that eventually time will run out so just have the most fun when you can.”
Pellaton and Szymanski were the Knights leading receivers this season and made multiple plays throughout the year when called upon.
Friday was no different in the losing effort.
Szymanski took a pass from Head 72 yards to the end zone that put the Knights ahead 14-13 in the second quarter. Havasu held onto that lead through halftime and it was the final time they led in the game.
Pellaton connected with Szymanski on a trick play for 47 yards to get inside Dorados territory when the Knights were down two scores in the fourth quarter. That large gain set up a 9-yard TD from Knights junior running back Isaac Stopke that put them within one score with 7:20 to play.
The Dorados outscored the Knights 22-7 in the second half with three touchdown runs. The Knights defense had no answer for the Dorados’ run game, as quarterback Caden Dawes and running back Kayden Luke were responsible for their team’s final three touchdowns.
Dawes gave his team the lead on a 15-yard quarterback keeper on their first drive of the second half. Luke scored the team’s final touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Luke finished the night with three touchdown runs.
“Most football games are won and lost right there in the trenches,” Knights coach Karl Thompson said. “Hats off to their guys. They got us tonight.”
CDO established the run game early on their first drive, which ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass. Dawes threw to Daylon Beck, who shook off a couple of Knights on his way to the end zone.
Havasu answered back with a 10-play drive that was capped off by a 7-yard touchdown from Stopke. The junior carried the ball eight times on the opening drive.
Stopke was held in check for the majority of the second half, as he didn’t break any large runs and was stopped on a couple of fourth downs. The junior entered Friday’s game with three consecutive five-touchdown games and gained at least 150 yards in each of those contests.
Upset loss doesn’t define Knights’ season
It wasn’t the ending the Knights and the local community envisioned, but it was the program’s most successful season since 2015. That year was the last time the Knights competed in the state playoffs and hosted a postseason game. The program’s postseason run lasted longer that season with the Knights advancing all the way through the state semifinals.
The Knights did compete in the postseason last year, but it was in the 4A play-in round, as the conference held an eight-team tournament last season.
Another team accolade was the Knights winning their first Region title since 2014 with an unbeaten 4-0 mark. Three of the Knights four Southwest Regional wins were by double digits.
Stopke made history this season by becoming the program’s record holder for most rushing touchdowns in a season. The junior ended the regular season with 32 touchdowns and 1,576 yards on 166 carries. Stopke recorded his offensive stats in nine games.
“We’ve done so many great things throughout the season,” Thompson said. “Someone has to end on that loss. This group of seniors were tremendous all the way through.
“The group that went with them are juniors, sophomores and freshmen, they all rose to the occasion. No matter how the week went, when someone had to step up into a starting role, there were multiple guys that were able to do that.”