When all the festivities subsided on Friday night, it wasn't Horizon Honors that walked away as Homecoming King.
Northwest Christian took home that title, beating the Eagles on the road 52-45 behind sophomore Hayden Anderson's 19 points and six rebounds.
"We knew it was going to be tough coming in," Northwest Christian coach Liam Simmons said. "We talked during the week not about ruining homecoming for them, but getting that win that we need."
The offensive combination of an interior presence and outside shooting helped the Crusaders (15-9, 10-6 in power rankings) put some distance between the two teams entering the fourth quarter with a 13-point lead. Horizon Honors (18-9, 9-7) attempted a late push closing the gap to four points, but a 3-pointer from Anderson with just over a minute left to play proved to be the dagger.
"We didn't really execute the game plan," Horizon Honors coach Ernest Shand said. "Turning the ball over 19 times is not going to get it done. We're not going to beat anyone like that."
Frustration got the best of the Eagles when it came to fouling for possession at the end, including an incident when senior center Tyler Popescu was issued a technical foul. It was the team that suffered through the hard fouls that came out on top, though.
Popescu finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and an assist, while sophomore guard Jake Connell led the Eagles with 11 points, and both Zack Taylor and Taylor Hudzinski scored nine points.
Popescu took the loss especially hard with only two regular season games left for him to play in his high school career.
"Words can't describe it," Popescu said. "We've got to push harder for Senior Night."
Throughout the first half, the Eagles had a hard time penetrating and getting the ball to their big guys in the post. Additionally, the lack of an outside threat failed to keep the defense from honing in on them around the perimeter.
For Shand, though, turnovers were the main flaw in his team's game.
"We have to value every possession," Shand said. "We have to win the battle within (the game) and that's taking care of possessions and limiting teams to one or less shots per possession. They get two or three looks out here, they're going to make some of those."
Meanwhile, when the Crusaders were on offense they remained patient and slowly dissected Horizon Honors' defense with each possession. Behind Anderson, senior guard Josh Mata scored 11 points, to go along with his six rebounds and five assists, and senior forward Jacob Berry provided eight points, two rebounds and two assists.
Rebounding played a huge part in their victory as the team finished with 34 rebounds, compared to the Eagles' 18.
"We toughed it out," Simmons said. "The defense was pretty solid, (but there are) still some things we've got to get better with."
With only one week left in the regular season, both teams were fully aware of how important the difference was between a win and a loss.
"This last week has to be played with some urgency," Shand said. "We still have to come out and compete after the first time all season we've lost three games in a row."
Simmons and the Crusaders will continue to ride a winning streak of seven games into their final week.
"This was big not just because of the crowd, but because of the fact that we're moving toward playoffs and we need every win right now," Simmons said. "Everyone's one win away from being right in your spot, so if you don't take care of business then you're looking at being on the outside looking in."
Chris Cole is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.