Pusch Ridge Christian Academy has had a rough start to the 2011-2012 football season, dropping a third consecutive game Friday night against Tanque Verde.
With only a handful of returning players, the team is working hard to overcome the problems that come with a roster of so many new, inexperienced players.
“We’re struggling with growing pains,” Lions coach Bob Vance said. “Young thinking. But the program has a positive attitude.”
During Friday’s game against the visiting Tanque Verde Hawks, the Lions got off to a good start when senior Tyler Sasse returned an interception 22 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. The resulting 6-0 lead over Tanque Verde gave Pusch Ridge fans hope. Sadly, the glory was short-lived.
The Lions offense didn’t score until the fourth quarter in a 24-12 loss to the Hawks.
Two years ago, the Lions had state title game aspirations, led by the quarterbacking of then-senior Greg Schimke, one of Southern Arizona’s most prolific passers. The dream ended with a second-round playoff loss.
In 2010, Schimke was gone, but there were still plenty of seasoned seniors and the team returned to the playoffs again, losing in the first round.
The 2011 Lions look a lot different from the 2009 squad.
“We have four guys with varsity experience,” Vance said. “Josh Brock and Robert Ferrari are back.”
Junior Grayson Barghols is emerging as one of the most promising new players.
“We’ve got to get the whole team coming together as a unit,” Barghols said. “We’ve got to study it, and leave the rest to God.”
Still, the Lions’ offense did put together an impressive drive in the fourth quarter. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Frithsen completed a fourth-down pass to Barghols to the Hawks’ 19-yard line, on a 24-yard pickup up.
A cramp forced Barghols to be pulled for the second time, but the drive continued to flourish. A pass-interference call against the Hawks set the Lions up at the 12-yard line with a first down.
A run by Frithsen and a couple of completions to Brock moved the ball down to the 1-yard line. Frithsen ran it in with 9:15 left, but a run on the two-point conversion attempt failed, which cut the Lions deficit to 17-12.
Barghols finished with seven catches for 115 yards. Brock caught three passes for 19 yards. Frithsen completed 15 of 28 passes for 180 yards and two interceptions.
In the fourth quarter, Connor Reilly made a big hit on a fourth-and-one to stop the Hawks, and give the ball to the Lions, who were still trailing 17-12.
But lack of experience hurt the Lions when Frithsen made a novice decision and threw a pass that was intercepted by the Hawks’ David Novak.
A few plays later, Novak put the game away with a 48-yard touchdown run.
Hawks’ quarterback Novak, rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed six of eight passes for 62 yards, kicked a 33-yard field goal and averaged 34 yards per punt.
The Lions had lost their first two games by a combined score of 103-14. The 12-point loss to the Hawks showed marked improvement.
“We’re obviously rebuilding,” Brock said. “We don’t have the experience. We made some strides tonight. This helped us.”
The Lions held a 6-3 lead with less than three minutes left in the first half. But then the mistakes took another bite out of the Lions’ efforts.
Turning things around won’t be easy, but the team continues to focus on where improvements can be made.
“It’s small things like making the catch after you’re open,” Brock said. “Running precise routes. And blocking. There’s still a lack of communication.”
The Lions will play at Bisbee at 7 p.m. on Friday night.