The man they call “Boom” happily addressed the four-dozen sweat-stained faces in front of him last Thursday night.
That man—longtime Mountain View football coach Clarence McRae—was all smiles, thanks in part to his team’s 28-23 comeback victory on a toasty Tucson evening over neighborhood rival Ironwood Ridge High School.
McRae and company, who improved to 5-1 on the year with the win, trailed for most of the night after the Nighthawks struck twice in the first quarter off two Mountain Lions turnovers.
Behind a fearsome rushing attack spearheaded by senior back Nick Brahler, IRHS looked well on its way to a win, leading 14-0 after the first quarter.
Mountain View punched its way off the ropes, scoring twice on rushing scores by do-it-all sophomore Edward Gastelum, who overcame an early fumble to score the Mountain Lion’s first touchdown midway through the second quarter. Senior quarterback Josemaria Alcala evened the score a few minutes later, punching the ball across the goal line on a one-yard draw.
The Lions were able to shake off a third turnover to hold Ironwood Ridge to a 30-yard field goal early in the third quarter.
Alcala saved his best for last when he cocked his right arm and unleashed a booming spiral into the outstretched arms of receiver Joshua Hart, who dashed his way to paydirt to give the Mountain Lions its first lead of the night. It was a lead they’d never squander, adding a fourth touchdown on Wyatt Adams’ six-yard rushing score.
The Nighthawks got within five of the Mountain Lions late on a short scamper by Brahler, who was the bright spot for the Nighthawks, scoring four touchdowns.
The team’s ensuing two-point conversion try was stuffed by a hungry Mountain Lion defense, and a failed onside kick attempt sealed the Nighthawks’ fate.
McRae praised his team for its never-say-die mentality against a talented Nighthawks squad.
“I think this team is starting to figure out that things don’t come easy,” McRae said. “So over the next couple of weeks we’ve been growing as a football team and tonight we were able to come out on top.”
McRae and company have little time to bask in the win, however, as they’ll face fellow regional rival Desert View on the road this Friday.
McRae knows how tough the Jaguars will be on their home turf, and expects another nightlong battle.
“We talk about going 1-0 each week, and we try to play to our full potential each week and in each game,” McRae said. “So we’re going to focus on Desert View, they’re going to get our full attention, and we’re going to try to get ready to play next week.”
For Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson, last Thursday’s game provided his team with another taste of what’s to come should the Nighthawks make the state playoffs.
“I think the biggest thing is just that when you’re playing these quality teams, the stakes are higher,” Johnson said. “I believe on any given night that we can beat anybody. But I also know on any given night we can lose. So our kids just have to keep growing.”
The Nighthawks face fellow Division 5A foe Buena at home this Friday in a battle of dueling 4-2 teams.
A resounding victory
Only one day later, players from Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and Empire High School were kneeling in prayer as Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” blared on the stadium PA system.
It was indeed a wonderful world, at least for a night, for the visiting PRCA—who blew away the hometown Ravens 56-14 behind 50 unanswered points.
The Lions, who entered last Friday’s clash with an unblemished 5-0 record and the number one spot in the AIA’s Division 3A rankings, looked prime for the picking early on.
The top-ranked Lions were punched in the mouth after the opening gun, however; surrendering two early touchdowns to Empire back Wyatt Jeffries.
For PRCA, path to victory began, oddly enough, on a bobbled kickoff return by Dakota Haynes.
Haynes, who was a tour de force on the field, scooped up the wayward ball, dashing 92 yards up the gut for a go-ahead touchdown.
The bulbs on the scoreboard showed a 21-14 advantage at the half for the Lions, ahead of the onslaught brought on by Coach Jerry Haynes’ three-pronged rushing attack.
The Lions pounded the Ravens in the third quarter; outscoring the woebegone home team 28-0, with Haynes, quarterback Christian Fetsis and Gavin Davis leading the surge.
After the game, Haynes praised the effort put in by Fetsis and company, gushing about the team’s ability to shake off early hiccups to put away the Ravens.
“I was proud of the way they rallied back,” he said. “You can play a poor first half, go into halftime and feel sorry for yourself, but these guys trust each other; they love each other; they’re committed to each other.”
Fetsis, one of the senior team captains, said no one in the locker room doubted the team’s destiny at the half.
“We stress this all the time: if our team plays its own brand of football—tough—we can overcome any opponent,” Fetsis said. “It’s all mindset for us. If we come out mentally tough and make few mistakes, we’ll be able to move the ball just fine.”
Haynes knows his team has a target on its back going forward, given its success of-late.
Haynes knows his players are okay with their newfound status, and that they’re comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
“They have a lot of confidence, they’ve been playing together for a long time, and these kids are tough,” he said. “They’re mentally tough and they’re physically tough. And when the chips are down, I want to be in their foxhole.”
The Lions’ next task is taking down regional rival Sabino at home at 7 p.m. this Friday, against a 5-1 Sabercats squad.
Fetsis is well aware of the battle in store for he and his teammates, facing a Sabercats team that’s outscored its last three opponents 154-0.
“I can honestly say it’s going to be our most physical game of the year,” Fetsis said. “We’ve got a couple of starters out, which will hurt us a little bit. But the awesome thing about our guys is that they’re tough, and the second man’s always ready to play.”
Haynes knows all about the challenge ahead, but says he’s confident his players will be ready for the task at hand come Friday night.
“We have to do our thing,” Haynes said. “I tell the kids that we have another nameless, faceless opponent. Certainly we’ll game plan for them, but we are who we are. And we’ll play crazy defense and we’ll pound the ball on offense, and we’ll take our chances with anybody, including Sabino.”