Welcome to the third-to-last week of the high school football regular season, where teams will make a valiant push toward the postseason.
Last week’s games gave us a much clearer view of where each team stands competitively, with Marana surviving a daunting road battle with Ironwood Ridge, while CDO fell, 42-21, to Sahuaro. Pusch Ridge Christian Academy continued its recent surge, blasting Sahuarita to the tune of 40-21 to pick up their third-straight victory. The Mountain View Lions and Catalina Foothills Falcons each picked up resounding wins of their own, against Empire and Vista Grande, respectively.
This week’s contests are equally important for all involved, with Marana (5-2) playing Cienega (6-1) in Vail, with first place in the 5A Southern region on the line.
The Dorados (5-2) host juggernaut Salpointe Catholic (7-0) on Friday night, with a chance at springing the upset of the year in Southern Arizona. The Lions of Pusch Ridge will look to extend their win streak to four against Sabino (5-2) on the road, with first place in the 3A South region on the line. Ironwood Ridge (3-4) will look to get back to .500 on the southern edge of Tucson, against a 4-3 Sunnyside squad, with a berth in the playoffs on the line. Catalina Foothills will also look to get back to .500 on Friday, hosting a 5-2 Casa Grande squad, while Mountain View (2-5) will try to push its win streak to three against a 1-6 Rincon/University Rangers squad at home.
Without further ado, here’s how I see the six programs that dot the northwestern fringe of Tucson shaking out, from top to bottom:
1. Marana Tigers (5-2)
Last Week: Beat Ironwood Ridge, 20-13
This Week: At Cienega, 7 p.m.
The Tigers found their groove in Oro Valley last Friday, with Vince Amey’s defense flying around, stymieing a top-notch Nighthawks offense. Senior quarterback Trenton Bourguet was as accurate as ever in the win, completing 11-of-15 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Bourguet rebounded from an early interception to pace the Tigers attack, doing just enough to avert the team’s third-straight loss. The Tigers now have a prime opportunity to retake the top spot in their region, with a road matchup with a 6-1 Cienega squad that’s averaging 32.3 points per game this year. Get your popcorn ready, because this will be another classic Tigers-Bobcats battle on the southeastern edge of the Tucson Metro.
2. Canyon del Oro Dorados (5-2)
Last Week: Lost to Sahuaro, 42-21
This Week: Vs. Salpointe Catholic, 7 p.m.
The Dorados enter the classic ‘David vs. Goliath’ contest this week, looking to rebound from last week’s 21-point beatdown at the hands of the Sahuaro Cougars, against one of the best teams in the state. The mighty Lancers of Salpointe Catholic are currently the number-two team in 4A, averaging 39 points per game, while holding opponents to 16.1 points over the same span. The Dorados’ are no slouch themselves, averaging just north of 37 points per game this season, and should be bolstered by having a healthy Stevie Rocker in the backfield. It’ll be fascinating to watch the two-deep backfields of both teams go head-to-head, with Lancer Bijan Robinson and his 204 yards per game going head-to-head with Rocker, who has averaged 153.5 yards per game for the Dorados. It’s a daunting task for any defense, to try and contain Robinson and fellow back Mario Padilla, but the Dorados will do their best to do just that on Friday night.
3. Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks (3-4)
Last Week: Lost to Marana, 20-13
This Week: At Sunnyside, 7 p.m.
The Nighthawks are a very good team, and could easily be ranked above CDO, given how they played against Marana in a hard-fought 20-13 loss last Friday. The Nighthawks are currently ranked 21st in 5A, meaning they’ll likely have to win to make the top-16 (and the playoffs). They have a good shot at doing just that, thanks to the performance that senior back Nathan Grijalva has put in at running back this season. Grijalva, who assumed the position after Nick Brahler graduated last year, has been top-notch all season, with five 100-yard rushing performances in seven games, accumulating 694 rushing yards on 119 carries, with six rushing touchdowns to his name. Grijalva has averaged a whopping 5.8 yards per carry this season and is one of the best every-down backs in the state. Fellow senior Andrew Cook has been just as explosive at wide receiver, with 16 catches and 335 receiving yards this season, with 5 receiving touchdowns and two more on the ground this season. The Nighthawks final three games, against Sunnyside (on the road), Buena (home) and Cienega (on the road) are all challenging but provide the type of strength-of-schedule boost that the team needs to qualify for the state playoffs, should they win out. Don’t put it past Matt Johnson and his staff to get his team in position to do just that.
4. Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions (4-3)
Last Week: Beat Sahuarita, 40-21
This Week: At Sabino, 7 p.m.
The Lions have found their rhythm on both sides of the ball of-late, winning their last three games over Fountain Hills, Tanque Verde and Sahuarita by a combined score of 127-24. The team’s resurgence speaks to Jerry Harris’ coaching abilities, as well as the performance put in by backs like sophomore Evan Lovett, who has a team-high 625 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns this season. Lovett has averaged a whopping 11.0 yards per carry this year for the Lions, providing the big-play threat in the rush and receiving game that the team desperately needed. The Lions have a brutal test against a solid Sabino squad this week, with a chance put a stranglehold on the region with a win.
5. Catalina Foothills Falcons (3-4)
Last Week: Beat Vista Grande, 55-6
This Week: Vs. Casa Grande, 7 p.m.
The Falcons feasted on their first of two Casa Grande schools, in Vista Grande, on Friday night, gashing the Spartans defense to the tune of 372 yards on 38 carries. Senior backs Dominic Bynum and Isaiah Bae were phenomenal in the win, picking up 198 and 137 rushing yards on 31 combined carries, providing the type of ground-and-pound mettle that Jeff Scurran’s squads are known for. This week’s battle with the Casa Grande Cougars is a tougher test, with the latter sitting at 5-2 this season, with an offense that’s averaged 373 yards per game this season. The Falcons have a brutal closing stretch, with their final two games coming against Salpointe Catholic on the road, before hosing Sahuaro to close out the season.
6. Mountain View Lions (2-5)
Last Week: Beat Empire, 62-0
This Week: Vs. Rincon/University
The Lions’ sudden renaissance is a probably a case of too little, too late—with Clarence ‘Bam’ McRae’s squad crushing Cholla and Empire in consecutive games by a combined score of 117-6, after losing each of their first five games by a combined total of 194-63. Nonetheless, it’s always a positive to see sophomore quarterback Hayden Parson, who has the height and arm to possibly play Division I football down the road, find his rhythm. The sophomore gunslinger has 1,001 passing yards and 6 touchdowns this year, giving McRae a piece to build his offense around in the years to come. Junior running back Aaron Logsdon has continued to get better on both sides of the ball as well, with 425 rushing yards and four touchdowns this season, to go with 53 tackles and 6 tackles for loss on defense. The future looks bright for McRae and company, regardless of how the rest of this season pans out.