It was an emotional end to an otherwise outstanding season for Marcos de Niza in its quest for the school’s first state high school football championship when the Saguaro Sabercats scored back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter to ultimately defeat the Padres 38-20 on Nov. 28 at Tucson’s Arizona Stadium.
The Padres should be proud of their accomplishments. They had to beat some talented teams to make it to the finals against Saguaro, including Ironwood Ridge in Tucson on Nov. 13, to advance to the Division II semifinals and then undefeated Skyline on Nov. 20 to face Saguaro in the finals.
Defeating Ironwood Ridge 35-16 proved to the Padres what could happen if they stuck together and fought hard, especially since they lost to the Night Hawks in the regular season at home 35-24. Marcos put together a complete game against Ironwood Ridge, rushing the ball for more than 300 yards and passing for over 140 yards.
The Padres carried the momentum into their next game to hand Skyline their first loss of the season, 44-37. Taking what the defense gave them, Nazareth Greer threw the ball for over 270 yards and rushing for over 100 yards.
In the finals, against Saguaro, Marcos de Niza faced a championship-caliber team that was looking for not only its third straight state championship win but its eighth state championship in 10 years. It was obvious the Padres were going to have to start on a high note and continue playing strong the entire game if they were going to have a chance to win.
Marcos came out in the first quarter determined to make a statement which the Padres did by scoring the first points of the game with six minutes left in the quarter on a 13-yard receiving touchdown by Marcus Naisant from quarterback Greer.
The Padres took a 7-0 lead after junior Krysten Muir scored her 66th point-after kick of the season.
Saguaro’s offense, with an offensive line that averages over 300 pounds, followed with a momentum changing 64-yard touchdown pass to former Marcos player, Byron Murphy, just before the end of the first quarter.
Saguaro scored another touchdown about four minutes into the second quarter before the Padres second leading rusher, Shaun Richards, busted through the defense to score a 46-yard second touchdown and give Marcos a 14-12 lead with Muir’s second point-after kick of the game.
Once again Saguaro’s quarterback connected with Murphy, who is said to be one of the top recruits in the state, to score their third touchdown of the half and take a four-point lead heading into halftime.
The Padres pulled within five points, 25-20, in the third quarter when their leading rusher on the season, senior Avery Sander, helped Marcos put together an 80-yard drive culminating on a 12-yard rushing touchdown by junior Zyayre Moss.
Unfortunately for the Padres, Saguaro’s passing and running game started firing on all cylinders, and the Padres, who continued to play hard until the final seconds and never gave up, had no answer.
What should have been the final crushing blow, when the Sabercats scored back-to-back touchdowns in a matter of minutes in the fourth quarter, failed to break the Padres, who continued to fight. Marcos even blocked the extra-point kick on the last Saguaro touchdown thus losing the game and ending the team’s hopes and dreams at 20-38 instead of 20-39.
That one-point difference was important to the Padres, who are a family as well as a team. Blocking that last point-after kick against Saguaro defined the way the team members play and think of themselves. They are a proud family and team that never stops playing no matter what the score.
It will be hard to replicate this season’s team next year but there are key players returning to give the Padres a fighting chance.
Greer, who is averaging over 230 yards a game passing, will be a senior as will Naisant and Moss, the only non-senior pass receivers, out of a total 14 players to catch the ball this season.
The Padres will no doubt miss their leading senior receivers Richards, Tanner Blankenship, Montre Williams, Anthony Trujillo, Anthony Gonzales and Sanders.
Naisant, Tyshawn Britton and Moss, the top junior rushers in 2015, will return along with Greer. Two other juniors also carried the ball in 2015: Jesse Guzman and Sam Johnson.
The Padres will be without the over 56 yards that Sanders contributed, 40 yards that Richards added and 12 yards that Erik Bolster provided rushing the ball per game let alone the touchdowns that each scored.
The Padres should also be proud of their defense that not only blocked that final-point-after kick but also stopped three attempts by the Sabercats to score two-point conversions.
The defense that averages close to 55 tackles a game will most surely miss senior Jacob Hernandez who averaged over one-fifth of those tackles per game at almost 11 per game and recorded three interceptions and three sacks during the season.
The defensive contributions that fellow seniors like James Reynosa, over seven tackles a game; Sanders, over five tackles per game and three sacks; Daviaughn Reagan, the sack leader on the team with over 10 sacks; Griffith, with four interceptions; and Tyler Dennis, around three tackles per game and over three sacks contributed per game will need to be replaced.
Marcos will have some return players who could help fill this defensive void including Anthony Nicastro who already averaged over 3.5 tackles per game plus had over 10 sacks this season.
Other juniors who had decent defensive stats but who will be expected to contribute more next season include Guzman, who had three interceptions in only 10 games, Marcus Green, Johnny Moreno and Christian Rodriguez.
Kicker Muir, who already reportedly beat out four male kickers for her spot on the team this season, will return no doubt but the two senior kickoff and punt kickers, Griffith and Blankenship will need to be replaced possibly by current sophomore kicker Matt Gill who already averaged over 45 yards per kickoff this season.
Everyone ever associated with Marcos de Niza, the school and the football program, should be proud of what this season’s team has accomplished. They ended the season with a 12-3 record ranked No. 11 in the state scoring 65 touchdowns by averaging close to 215 passing and 145 rushing yards a game.
They are only the second Marcos football team in school history, besides the 2009 team, to make it to the state championship finals. The 2009 team also received a state championship runner-up trophy.
Corona Girls Basketball — Corona’s girls basketball team has returned three starters and three players from last season’s team to start the 2015-16 season with what coach Andrew Strom feels will lead to a successful season: good shooters, strong defensive skills and team chemistry.
“I am really excited about the season,” said Strom. “We have amazing chemistry and I believe that will translate to the court.”
One of the team’s issues will be how to replace the ball handling and scoring ability of Taylor Kalmer now playing at Oregon State, who led the team in points per game at close to 19 and assists at four per game.
“We will have to find a way to replace her scoring and ball handling. I believe that ball handling may be our biggest worry,” said Strom. “It won’t be one person that can take Taylor’s place. We will have to rely on each other to handle any pressure from other teams.”
The three returning starters from last season’s team, Hannah Lauer, Bri Bell and Leilani Peat, will be looked upon to help pick up for Kalmer as well as the other returning players, Baylee Watson, Marin Ridge and Mallory Hanscom.
Ridge is currently out with an ACL injury.
The team has 14 girls on the roster this year including three newcomers who are working hard to get into the rotation.
“Hope Frazier and Kiara El Amin, who moved up this season from the JV team, are playing well,” said Strom. “Freshman Angelica Lopez is fitting in and doing well, too.”
Coach Strom is pleased with the improvement and the dedication to basketball shown by each of the team members including newcomers Anne Osman, Elyse Olson, Nathena Silvers, Nicole Whitaker and Aarushi Sangwan.
Although coach Strom believes he has several girls who could play at the next level, if they so desired, he admits that Peat is getting the most attention.
Once again Corona’s girls’ basketball Division I section will be very competitive with maybe Hamilton as the front leader this early into the season not only in the section but in the state according to Strom.
Corona started the season playing in the Lady Padres Tip Off Classic, Nov. 24-27, compiling a 3-2 record as of Nov. 30 defeating South Mountain 37-29, Marcos de Niza 57-31 and Horizon 64-45 while losing to Mountain Pointe 54-38 and Ironwood Ridge 47-38.
Corona was scheduled to play Desert Mountain on Dec. 1 and Mountain Pointe on Dec. 3 before playing at Highland on Dec. 8, Maricopa on Dec. 10, and at home against Mountain View on Dec. 12.
McClintock Athletic Signees — Amiri Chukwuemeka, a student athlete at McClintock, signed an athletic letter of intent to play basketball at Hawaii Pacific.