As darkness draped over the eastern sky last Friday night, a chill swept across the plains of Oro Valley, with only the stadium lights between the crowd and a brilliant full moon.
It was a prelude of sorts to the wonder that is fall, where the fever-dream of summer and 100-degree heat breaks, and playoff football abounds.
The chill did nothing to hamper the hometown Lions of Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, however, who cruised to a 44-7 win against an overmatched Sabino team.
Friday’s contest, viewed by many as a de-facto regional championship game, looked its part early, with Pusch Ridge jumping out to an early 6-0 lead on a five-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Christian Fetsis.
The Sabercats rallied, however, with Sabino quarterback Alex Bell finding receiver Bennett Nottingham for a nine-yard score.
The Sabercats rejoiced at the 7-6 advantage, though it’d be their last of the night.
What followed was an absolute thrashing by the Lions, who scored 38 unanswered points to close out the night.
Team wide win
A cursory glance at the stat sheet tells the tale of the night, with the Lions outgaining the Sabercats 409-141, with Pusch Ridge gaining 268 yards on the ground alone.
It was a sight for sore eyes for longtime Pusch Ridge Coach Jerry Harris, who cracked a wide smile as he discussed his team’s surgical breakdown of its regional rival.
“I was very proud of our guys,” Harris said. “Obviously Sabino’s a quality program; there’s great tradition over there, and we’re just fortunate to have them in our region and to play them every year. But I’m so proud of my guys. They rose up when it mattered most. They’ve been doing that all season, and they did it again tonight.”
Most of the team’s success Friday was the end result of Fetsis’ dual passing and running abilities.
Fetsis, who entered Friday’s game as the Lions’ leading passer (548 yards) and its leading rusher (443), put up perhaps his best all-around game of the year. He finished with 141 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and four total touchdowns.
The senior downplayed his role in Friday’s victory, heaping praise on his teammates for helping him find paydirt.
“Really, running the ball’s all on the offensive line. They’ve been working so hard, they’ve been working their butts off at practice,” he said. “And my receivers run great routes, and my coaches make great calls against the coverages. I have a small part; I just have to get the ball to the players. They do the rest.”
Haynes was especially proud of the work put in by the Lions’ defense, which forced two Sabercats turnovers and negative rushing yards (minus 12 to be exact) on Friday.
“Our defense has been awesome all year,” Harris said. “They came out on the first series with a particular formation and series that we had seen them run last year, and that was a coaching problem, not a player problem. I didn’t put them in the best position to defend that, and they went right down the field and scored. We made an adjustment after that series and we did a lot better after that.”
The Lions face regional foe Tanque Verde this Friday night in its final regular season home game of the year.
The Lions will face a Hawks team that’s 2-6 this season, with back-to-back wins against Santa Rita and Sahuarita.
Haynes is well aware of the test the Hawks, coached by Haynes’ longtime friend Jeremy Johnson, will present.
“I’ve known the coach over there for a long time, he runs an extremely quality program and is a very classy guy,” Harris said. “They’re very much like us, they run the ball and can stop the run. So it’s an old school vs. old school game, whereas this week was old school vs. new school. Sabino runs an offense that likes to throw the ball more, Tanque Verde will be strength against strength.”
Fetsis believes the team’s camaraderie and work ethic will help it prevail against the Hawks come Friday night.
“I feel like God’s hand is on us in a tremendous way, and I feel that we will have an undefeated season for sure,” Fetsis said. “I feel confident.”