LOUISVILLE — No. 7 Monarch and No. 10 Skyline took the field knowing only one top-10 team would stay undefeated.
"You play a top-10 team, you play a team that's undefeated, it doesn't matter who they've played," Monarch coach Phil Bravo said. "You can look at Skyline's record and scrutinize it up and down, but when a team comes in and believes in itself, you better be prepared to play. And this team sure did.
"I would imagine this is a red-letter game for this team."
The Coyotes rode key defensive plays and five touchdowns from Justin Kiss to beat Skyline 52-42 in a Class 4A Northern League matchup on Thursday.
"I told our guys, give us three stops," Bravo said. "Give us three stops and we can take this game over. What I didn't anticipate was them stopping us once. That wasn't part of the equation. I was proud of our kids, these guys prepare hard and they play hard. That is a good football team right there. They are really, really a tough team."
With Skyline facing a fourth and goal from the three-yard-line just before halftime, the Falcons elected to go for it. Monarch's defense made the stop and kept Skyline off the board.
"We knew that whoever got the stop first was going to change the momentum," Kiss said. "It really kick-started our whole team. We got going, our offense got hyped after it. It was big for our defense to give them some momentum as well."
The turnover on downs was the first drive of the game that did not end in a touchdown.
Monarch rode that momentum to a quick strike touchdown to start the second half. After Cole Polluconi broke off a 45-yard run to the four-yard-line, Kiss capped the drive with a touchdown run — his third of the night.
The Monarch defense wasn't done. Jordon Shields recovered the fumble on the 24 after Skyline quarterback Nathan McGregor was stripped on the Falcon's next drive.
Kiss ran it in again to put Monarch up 35-21.
"It's definitely a committee, a good committee," Kiss said on Monarch's running backs. "All of our backs are good, we know our responsibilities. Obviously, I got the big numbers, but the wing on the other side, he was doing all the work making the holes and creating the blocks. It's equally their night as well.
"We all put in the work that provides the success for everyone else. We all got the glory there, even if we didn't get the numbers."
Skyline took the opening drive down for a touchdown. The Falcons came out swinging with a 35-yard completion from McGregor to Kyle West off of a run/pass option.
McGregor and the Skyline offense drove the field easily for much of the first half as he made the right read time and time again.
Then, after converting on a long third down and one from the 10, Skyline punched it in with a handoff to Jeremy Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth broke a tackle on his way to a four-yard touchdown run.
Hollingsworth had four touchdowns in the game.
"When you have Hollingsworth, McGregor and West, that's a three-headed monster," Bravo said. "They make it really difficult to find who you want to concentrate on. We wanted to come in and stop the run game to start with. We didn't achieve that in the first half, but we made some adjustments at halftime and we came out and stopped them in the third quarter."
Kiss erased bad starting field position after Monarch's kick returner Alex Matsumoto stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard-line. Kiss took the handoff 55 yards to the Skyline 23, then capped the drive with a 7-yard rushing touchdown.
"Justin Kiss did well, but more importantly, I think our offensive line did well," Bravo said. "Our O-line, we're finally getting into a groove, and we're finally getting into a rhythm with a stable offensive unit. The first four games, we were maneuvering kids in and out to try to find that rhythm. They really clicked tonight, and they had to."
Facing a fourth-down-and-three from the 19 on the ensuing drive, McGregor kept on the read option down to the 8. McGregor's run set up Hollingsworth for his second touchdown of the game to put Skyline up 14-7 heading into the second quarter.
Monarch responded quickly with an 18-yard touchdown pass from CJ Schmanski to a wide open Ricky Stimac.
Skyline didn't let the stalemate last long as West took the middle screen 35 yards for a touchdown, putting the Falcons up 21-14.
And again, Monarch struck back. Kiss ran it in for his second rushing touchdown of the game.
Then, the Coyotes made the stop of the game as the half came to a close.
Monarch rode its defense and Kiss in the backfield to start the season 6-0, but Skyline did not go away easily.
"They got into a catch-up game and started throwing the ball in the fourth quarter, and that's where we wanted them to be," Bravo said. "We figured that if they were throwing the ball, we did something well."
The Falcons came all the way back to make it 49-42, but Monarch recovered the onside kick, and Kiss took the opening play of the drive 53 yards to the 12.
Monarch was able to eat up the clock and add to its lead thanks to a Ty Lanphear field goal.
"That field goal was great," Bravo said. "That made the difference in the game. I think that thing cleared by maybe two to three yards, but it did it."
Another defensive stop officially put the game out of reach as McGregor was hit as he threw, and Ben Cole intercepted the ball.
"We couldn’t come in shy in this game," Kiss said. "It's a big momentum shift for us, we got a test here tonight. We really showed what we got, and this is going to build our confidence going forward."