Corona del Sol hosted Casa Grande Union in the highly anticipated season opener, and while it certainly wasn’t pretty, the Aztecs started their season with a win in a tale of two extremes, says coach Jake Barro.
“(The) defense played really well,” he said. “A shutout is great, it’s the first shutout we’ve had since I’ve been here, so I’m happy with that. Offensively we played as bad as we’ve played since I’ve been here.” While Barro said those are all fixable mistakes, he was most disappointed in was the amount of laundry on the field, so much so that Barro had to remind his team they were 1-0 and that was something to celebrate.
There were roughly 30 penalties throughout the entire game, with Corona having nearly the same number of plays (20) as flags thrown in the second half. Some of which took turnovers and points of the board for the Aztecs. “It’s a lot of it was personal fouls, which are inexcusable, you can’t have that,” he said. “Kids talking trash after the whistle…late hit over here, just stuff that can ever happen. We had an interception wiped out because of defensive holding, things that when you’re playing later on in the season that will cost you the game.”
However, the game was more than just another opponent on the schedule, it was a game against Barro’s former program that he won the 4A state title with in 2021. Barro has deep roots in Casa Grande, but said he tried to not let the emotions disrupt his preparations. “I personally tried not to think about it,” Barro said. “It’s a tough one for me. It’s just emotional. That staff over there’s a lot of guys that coached with me. A lot of the players I remember from when they were young, that (number) 34 kid that was really good – that big tall kid I remember him being in fifth grade. So, a lot of memories from being down there for so long. I just kind of tried to put that out of my mind as best I could and just treat it like any other game.”
With only 10 games in the regular season, Barro understands how important each one is. The Aztecs jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in the opening quarter, but those would be the only points scored for either side all night. While points weren’t abundant for the Aztecs, splash plays were, and that’s exactly what Barro said he was hoping for. “We’re every bit as explosive as I thought we could be,” he said. “We’re running open, we just got to complete the ball. We’ve got time, we just got to be a little bit sharper in our reads and defensively, we’re fast and cover sideline to sideline and make plays.”
The Aztecs completed passes of 21, 22, 28, 37, 70 and 90 yards on the night, and had 282 total yards, 254 of them came through the air. Senior quarterback Connor Ackerley connected with junior receiver Raiden Vines-Bright on a 28-yard completion on fourth down, which led to a score a few plays later. Again, later in the first quarter while back up at Corona’s own 10-yard line, Ackerley found VinesBright on a slant, which he flashed his elite burst and outran the Cougars secondary for a 90-yard score. Vines-Bright showed glimpses of his athletic potential during his sophomore year and now a junior, seems ready to lead the Aztecs receiving core behind his chemistry with Ackerley. Against the Cougars, he registered three catches for 170 yards and a score. Vines-Bright said his dad, who is a personal trainer at LifeTime Fitness in Tempe, is a major inspiration to his game.
“I definitely think I wouldn’t be here today without him,” he said. “He’s like a mentor, like mentally and physically he just looks out for me and helps me with the things I need.” The connection between Ackerley and his receivers is something to be excited for, especially given how hard the schedule is down the stretch. The Aztecs proved they can come away with a win no matter how ugly or pretty, and there were plenty of positives to take away from the Aztecs opening match of the season. Expect Barro and company to have a more polished game when they head to Centennial during week two.