|Photo by Kris Cartwright
Corona del Sol coach Gary Venturo is starting to think he may have a special football team this year. Is it possible the Aztecs could make it into the final four at State?
Picking up where the team left off last year, Corona so far hasn’t missed a beat. After losing the first two regular games to Dobson and Red Mountain last season, the Aztecs put together nine consecutive wins and eventually won the Central Region trophy before losing to the eventual 5A state champions, Brophy, in the quarterfinals.
Of course, the Aztecs had some major injuries before that game or the outcome might have been different.
Fast forward to this season…
The Aztecs have incredible athleticism, remarkable speed and experience winning on both sides of the ball. In addition, the team’s second-year starting quarterback, #10 Chase Cartwright, has returned with more maturity and reps under his belt after suffering a season-ending broken leg last year in the playoffs.
The Aztecs started this season ready to play and it showed in their first two games when they beat the same two teams they lost to in their opening games last year by a combined 78-13 points.
The Aztecs are ahead on the leader board for in the Central Region, primarily because of their speed. In their first game against Dobson, they scored 27 points in the first period alone.
CdS scored on its first offensive possession before Dobson had time to get down on the ball. After Dobson received the kickoff, the Mustangs lost ground on every down and had to punt. Corona receiver No. 7, Kirby Pellant, caught the punt at the Aztecs 40 and easily ran it back for a touchdown. Pellant’s point after kick gave the Aztecs a 7-0 lead with only 2:21 ticks off the clock.
After CdS stopped the Mustangs for the second time, Aztec junior quarterback Cartwright pitched the ball to No. 11 Michael Lange, who ran the ball in from 77 yards out for their second touchdown of the first quarter.
Corona got the ball back a third time in the first quarter, recovering a Dobson fumble. Pellant got his second touchdown of the quarter on a 7-yard sweep from Cartwright. The Aztecs then ran a two-point conversion play on a pass from Cartwright to No. 20 Kyle Benson to give them a 21-0 lead after only playing 7:40 in the first quarter.
Corona’s athleticism and speed kept the Mustangs off balance the entire first half, forcing Dobson to turn over the ball three times. Cartwright and the Aztecs capitalized on Dobson’s mistakes throughout the quarter, scoring yet another touchdown, with less than a minute left, on a 10-yard pass to No. 22 Ryan Nolan to make it 27-0.
The Aztecs were kept scoreless in the second quarter but tallied another touchdown in the third when No. 61, Zeric Butters, recovered a fumble in the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, No. 42, senior Derik Maisel, ran the ball in from one yard out to make the score 40-0. No. 15 senior Jackson Allen kicked the point after through the uprights for a 41-0 lead.
Dobson was finally able to put some points on the board before the end of the game, scoring a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Lange led all players in rushing yards by compiling 209 total yards rushing in that first game alone. He was very active and easily eluded the Mustangs’ defensive players.
Additionally, seniors No. 18 Brandon Tunstall and No. 13 Brandon Stern each gained 16 yards on the receiving end of the ball. No. 3 Evan Althiede led all players with11 tackles. Senior No. 2 Zachery Sitton intercepted the ball and had two tackles in the game. Also active on the defensive side of the ball was No. 50 Tyler Giannonatti, with seven tackles, and No. 55, Vince Bonanno, with four tackles.
Last Thursday the Aztecs played at home against the Red Mountain Lions in their Haskel Henshaw stadium. CdS made a few mistakes on special teams against the Red Mountain Lions but overall had an impressive 37-12 win.
Mustang junior Derek Molina drew blood first by torching the Corona special teams, returning a punt for 90 yards and scoring the first points in this return match-up.
After Lange blocked their point-after attempt, the Lions were up 6-0 with 8:57 remaining in the 1st quarter. Cartwright and the Aztec offense countered with an impressive drive down the field into Lion territory. The Aztecs scored on a gutsy 26-yard pass on third and 10 from Cartwright to Tunstall in the end zone.
The Aztecs, utilizing their quick defense to either score points or get the ball back for the offense, scored 17 points in the second quarter, capped by a 33-yard field goal by Pellant. Using imposing defensive skills, Nolan and Benson each intercepted a pass by Mustang quarterback Derek Mendoza, which set the team up to score 10 points in the first half.
Tunstall caught another pass from Cartwright for a 49-yard touchdown. Defensive player and tight end, No. 85 Luke Macchiaroli, forced a fumble that was recovered by Nolan in the end zone.
Corona led 24-6 heading into the locker room at halftime. Macchiaroli upped the lead to 31-6 late in the third quarter by catching a 2-yard touchdown pass from Cartwright. Red Mountain’s Molina returned the Aztecs’ kickoff 95 yards for another six points. The Lions’ kicking team once again failed to succeed in getting the extra point, giving Corona a 19-point lead at 31-12.
The Aztecs answered early in the fourth quarter, using just three plays to score a touchdown on a 67-yard counter play run by senior No. 3 Evan Altheide. Although the long extra-point kick was blocked by Red Mountain’s Brett Cerqua, Corona still had an impressive 37-12 win.
Corona seemed to have benefited from playing a game early in the season, outgaining the Lions’ 339 to 111 total yards.
Chase Cartwright was an impressive 12 for 19, passing for a total of 172 yards and three touchdowns. Kirby Pellant is proving to be an all-around player on both sides of the ball rushing, receiving, returning kickoffs and kicking APA.
On the defensive side, Tyler Giannonatti and Vince Bonanno lead all players with 12 tackles each. Altheide and Butters finished the game with 10 tackles apiece. Sophomore No. 77 Todd Peat, at 6’2” and 270 pounds, finished with a notable seven tackles overall as did Nolan and Benson.
Senior punt kicker Jackson Allen is averaging over 33 yards a punt, returning to football after a 2-year break. Allen left football after his freshman season to concentrate on soccer.
The Aztecs are slated to play Tucson Sept. 12 at home and at Gilbert Mesquite the following week, Sept. 19.
Could this be the Corona football team that makes it past the quarter finals? It appears that the only aspect of their game that is not running on all cylinders is the kick-return coverage by special teams. Assuming coach Venturo is able to fix that problem, Corona still needs to prove it can play with the big dogs like Chandler Hamilton, Brophy and Desert Vista to make it into the finals.
It also appears, though, that this team may be the first one in over five years that has a chance to make it big in the state tournament.
You can find out more about the Aztecs schedule and the varsity team on Corona’s official athletic website www.aztecathletics.com. More information and schedules for all of the Corona’s football teams, including freshman and JV, can be found on the CdS Football Booster’s Touchdown Club website at www.eteamz.com/cdsfootball .