Football victory puts Aztecs back on track for a winning season

By Brian Gomez

You could almost call it the perfect homecoming for Corona del Sol High School. Away from the football field, fireworks lit up the sky over Hascall Henshaw Stadium and students and alumni paraded around the track in polished cars.

On the field, senior quarterback Blaise Johnson and senior running back Daniel McClendon combined for five touchdowns, and Corona’s defense looked dominant.

It all added up to a night full of memories, and a much-needed win against Gilbert Mesquite that enabled the Aztecs to get over the .500 mark.

“Homecoming is a big thing for our kids, and they didn’t want to lose,” said Corona coach Gary Venturo, whose team opened a 38-7 halftime lead before beating Mesquite 44-14. 

“It was a great win for us because I think we got a little self-confidence back. It feels pretty good to be in the situation that we’re in right now.”

Johnson rushed eight times for 165 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 94 yards in place of senior quarterback Jake Nero, who was sidelined with mononucleosis. Nero is expected to miss a couple of weeks.

McClendon scored on a 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, giving Corona (3-2) a 31-7 lead.

The Aztecs got their other touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 39-yard pass from Casey Shriener to Matt Finstead. Kicker Kevin Hager also made a 33-yard field goal.

“Maybe some of the kids started doubting themselves, but they got back on track,” Venturo said.

Corona opened the season with a 41-19 win over Mesa Dobson before dropping back-to-back games against No. 1 Chandler Hamilton and No. 12 Phoenix Maryvale.

It then rebounded with a 37-8 victory over hapless Phoenix Alhambra, setting up the Homecoming game against upstart Mesquite, which had won three straight after a season-opening loss at No. 8 Mesa Red Mountain.

Entering Central Region play Oct. 9 at Yuma High, Corona has positioned itself for another postseason run.

None of the five Central Region teams are ranked in this week’s top 12 poll, and Corona holds the No. 18 spot in the latest power points rankings. The top 16 teams qualify for the Class 5A state playoffs.

“I think it’s open wide,” Venturo said of the Central Region race. “I think the one (team) that is going to win the region is going to have to have four good games. They can’t have a bad game.”

Venturo credits his team’s defense and both the offensive and defensive lines for the turnaround. Then again, that Homecoming win also went a long way.

“High school kids don’t come down on the high pitch every time, but we’ve got to be near there, like the homecoming game,” Venturo said. 
“If we play that, there’s no telling what could happen.”