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Tale of two halves: Tucson High pulls away to win big over Sunnyside

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Photo:  Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Tucson High Badgers (4-3, 1-0)

When Justin Argraves was announced as the head coach at Tucson High’s historic football program, he inherited a program that had gone 0-10, 0-10, 5-6, 4-6 and 2-8 in the five years prior to his arrival, along with a two ton gorilla on his back from the moment he moved into his office at Gridley Stadium.

Against bitter rivals Sunnyside and Salpointe, the Badgers were 0-10 from 2006 to 2010 (the only consolation was having gone 2-0 against Pueblo). From 2011 until now, Argraves’ Badgers have gone 7-4, 7-3, 7-4, 4-6, 7-4 and this season are 4-3 with three guaranteed games to play. In the last five seasons, the Badgers have made three state playoff appearances.

In rivalry games since Argraves’ arrival, Tucson High is 4-1 against Sunnyside, 2-0 against Pueblo and this year Tucson High exorcised a demon that had haunted them since 1993. Todd Mayfield was the last coach at Tucson High to beat Salpointe until the Badgers made a visit to Ed Doherty Stadium this season and came out on top 14-3.

The progress and transformation Tucson High has shown on the field and in the stands in the last six seasons has amounted to a football renaissance for the Badger faithful.

The sun was setting but the heat was turning up at Gridley Stadium THSvsSHS Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

The sun was setting but the heat was turning up at Gridley Stadium THSvsSHS Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Sunnyside Blue Devils (2-5, 0-2)

In July of this year, about one month before the season started, Roy Lopez was announced as the next coach who would lead Sunnyside’s program following an off season of coaching instability for the Blue Devils. Once the dust had settled, they found a coach who is committed to turning the program around. In all sincerity, the committee tasked with hiring Sunnyside’s next head coach could not have made a better hire than when they landed Coach Lopez.

Without having an entire spring and only a month of summer to have worked with the players on his current roster, it would be easy to imagine that the opportunity to install his own playbook and scheme was non-existent. At Marcos De Niza, Lopez enjoyed a lot of success running an offensive scheme that used a lot of misdirection and read options. Without Lopez having had the time to install much of his scheme, Sunnyside’s offense looks much like it did last year and in years previous. Which is understandable.


Between 2006 and 2010 Sunnyside, under Coach Richard Sanchez went 11-3 (lost in the state title game), 10-3, 9-3, 10-2 and 6-5. Sunnyside made the state playoffs every year during that span and were undefeated against Tucson High as well. In fact, Sunnyside had beaten Tucson every year going back to 1995.

The Blue Devils made a coaching change in 2011 (same year Tucson High hired Argraves) and brought in Coach Glenn Posey. Under Posey’s tenure (2011-2015) the Blue Devils had records of 7-4, 5-5, 5-5, 7-5 and 6-5 with two state playoff appearances. Tucson High had begun getting the better of Sunnyside with regularity starting in 2011.

Sunnyside faithful should continue be patient and excited to see what the next two years bring under Coach Lopez.

This year, the Blue Devils entered the season with virtually an arm and leg tied behind their back. Remarkably they still manage to compete at times and show flashes of explosiveness and grit.

Approx 1,500 on hand to celebrate homecoming at THS as the faced Sunnyside. Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Approx 1,500 on hand to celebrate homecoming at THS as the faced Sunnyside. Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Pre-Game Comments: Approximately 1,500 people on hand according to the Tucson Police Department officers tasked with providing security for the event. It was safe to say, 90% of them were on the home side of the field as Tucson High was celebrating homecoming. The student section was roaring an hour before kick-off and didn’t let up even after the final whistle blew.

Lopez: “We had a good week of fundamentals. A good teaching week. It’s always good when you get to spend a little extra time with the boys. They’re up for this game. A lot of our kids played with a lot of theirs in youth football. A lot of kids from our area are playing over there. We won’t lose our kids anymore now that we have an estblished coaching staff in Coach Holmes, the Peraltas, Coach Leon, and the ‘Old Wizard’ Coach Sanchez is back.” (On how to stop Tucson High’s offense) ” We need to keep them in front of us. They’re a big play team. So if you bend-not-break, you know, no big plays. Really just nothing deep, nothing cheap and make them earn it. Offensively, we got to (establish) some drives, control the ball and keep their offense off the field.”

Argraves: In our pregame chat, Coach Argraves stressed that as long as his Badgers executed their gameplan, stayed focused and did their job, they would be in great shape. Covering Tucson High’s practices all week leading up to the game, I had a really good impression Argraves and his coaching staff have supreme confidence in the work they put in and the game plan they draw up week in and week out. They simply feel they don’t have to draw up anything fancy or special to face opponents. The Badgers coaching staff feels that when they set their plan in motion and it get going on all cylinders, there’s not many teams that can beat them. To them, their scheme is great, they have confidence in each other as a staff and they believe deeply in what they’ve coached their players up to do.

1st QTR: Tucson received the opening kick to start the night and right away it looked like it was going to be a defensive battle. Both teams were flagged for multiple penalties and punted on their first drives. Sunnyside began loosening up the Badger defense by using its passing game and connecting for long gains. The Blue Devils receivers were clearly faster than the Tucson secondary and Sunnyside provided enough pass protection to let QB Joe Fuentes make a few huge connections to drive inside the THS 25.

Blue Devils – 0 Badgers – 0

Coach Justin Argraves calling signals as he patrols the Badger sideline.  Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Coach Justin Argraves calling signals as he patrols the Badger sideline. Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

2nd QTR: First play of the quarter and Sunnyside attempts to fake a field goal. After throwing an incomplete, Tucson drove from their own 27 all the way down to the Blue Devil 29 and stalled their drive. Coach Lopez had mentioned in his pregame comments to us that he wanted to, “keep everything in front defensively,” citing Tucson’s big play tendency. Although, it is his own team that seemed to be dependent on the big plays. The only offense the Devils seemed to be able to generate was through the air when they’d take shots down field. The Badger defensive front was shutting down anything Sunnyside tried on the ground. One huge play for the Devils came with eight minutes to go in the half (score was still 0-0), came when they went from their own 26 to the Badger 26 on a pass play. Flags drove the Devils back but they were able to drive back within field goal range and take a 3 – 0 lead on Tucson.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tucson returned it from their 15 all the way to Sunnyside’s 24. The very next play, Tucson’s QB Jorge Flores connected with a receiver on a slant route. Extra point was good. Tucson took the lead 7-3.

Sunnyside’s ensuing drive went three and out. The punt snap went over the punters head and Tucson jumped on the ball on the Blue Devil 6 yard line. Tucson was able to run the ball in from 6 yards out and go up 14-3 after the extra point split the uprights.

Going into the locker rooms Sunnyside coaches were encouraged. Although they were leading, Tucson coaches were incensed and had choice words with their Badgers.

Blue Devils – 3 Badgers – 14

Half Time Comments – Taking into exception two really big plays on a punt return and a bad punt snap, Sunnyside would be up at the half 3-0 and that’s where Coach Lopez told us he wanted to be. Sunnyside’s game plan of making it a scratch and claw game at that point was seeming to be exactly what was happening. The Sunnyside receivers were getting open in the Tucson secondary. The Badgers looked like they were in zone defense every time Sunnyside would take a shot deep. A few of those long balls weren’t accurate and hit the turf. The Blue Devils might have left 17 points on the field. This half was one of the most penalized halves of football I have ever witnessed. Both teams were penalized well over 50 yards on personal fouls. The white hat seemed to love to throw his flag. A lot. Both coaching staffs agreed it seemed excessive. The only substantive offense played by either team had been by Sunnyside through the air. Tucson had the lead but Sunnyside had the momentum.

Members of the Badger coaching staff going over the previous drive with members of the Badger defense. Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Members of the Badger coaching staff going over the previous drive with members of the Badger defense. Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Lopez – Commenting on what adjustment the Blue Devils had to make to keep their passing game effective into the next half. The passing game was burning the Tucson secondary but toward the end of the half, Tucson turned up the pressure and were getting into the Sunnyside backfield and not letting Fuentes setup and progress through his reads. “We obviously have to block better. I don’t want to sound cliche, but we shot ourselves in the foot. We had been playing really well on special teams this year but mistakes ended up hurting us. We had a punt snap over the head and allowed a long kick return. I’m excited the way our boys are playing. But that’s how fast a game can change.”

Argraves – Commenting on Sunnyside’s effectiveness with their passing game, “We got to take away that middle (of the field). We can’t get complacent. We fell asleep (on) two plays and we’re lucky one of them came back on a penalty. We just got to lock in and do our job. We got tremendous athletes but we can’t fall asleep.” (Commenting on the penalties his team has been accessed to that point)”That’s what we’ve been talking about for two weeks. It’s a mental thing. We have to be able to get locked in and not get wrapped up in all the hype of this homecoming. We just got to do our job. I think we just got a little to wrapped up in this homecoming stuff and that’s why you saw the mental errors that we had. That’s got to get fixed and that’s on me.”

3rd QTR: From the very first play of the second half, it seemed two entirely different teams took the field. Tucson High had no problem continuing to shut the run down and the zone coverage that I thought I saw in the first half was now man-to-man. The Sunnyside O-line could not buy QB Joe Fuentes the time he needed with regularity and when managed to buy time with his feet, Tucson High started to rack up a few coverage sacks. On offense, the Badgers began to do all they wanted. Senior RB DJ Hinton would get into the secondary before absorbing a hit. By the end of the night seven Badgers had rushed the ball. Hinton carried the ball 12 times for 73 yards, two rushes went for 20+ yards. Others were getting 7-9 yards a touch. Tucson QB Jorge Flores threw a corner route from the left hash to the far right corner of the end zone, into the waiting arms of his WR David Montes. On the next drive, Flores found WR Malik Patterson on a 50 yard gain and THS was able to run it in from 7 yards out on the very next play. Negatives for Tucson High were a few penalty markers were thrown on them and a missed extra point. They avoided turnovers.

Blue Devils – 3 Badgers – 29

Coach Roy Lopez overseeing his defense during the second half of THSvsSHS 2016 Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Coach Roy Lopez overseeing his defense during the second half of THSvsSHS 2016 Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

4Th QTR: Sunnyside seemed to find their offensive selves going into the final quarter. They were driving right down the field by running the ball pretty effectively right up the middle. I could hear overtures from the visiting stands urging Coach Lopez to get back to his passing game but with the pressure Tucson was applying, Lopez may have felt the need to keep the THS defense honest. The running game was working, but so was the game clock. Sunnyside couldn’t shake the mistakes either. On the very first possession for the Blue Devils in the quarter, all their progress was negated when they threw an INT right to DJ Hinton. Tucson continued executing the adjustments they made at the half and were able to score one more TD before they started working the game clock. Sunnyside did what they could with they time they had left. They scored a touchdown of their own and recovered an onside kick, but the game by then was beyond reach. Tucson took a knee to end it all.

Blue Devils – 10 Badgers – 36

Headsets off Coach Argraves (left), his staff and team waiting for the clock to read all zeros.  Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Headsets off Coach Argraves (left), his staff and team waiting for the clock to read all zeros. Photo: Jose Roman Jr for allsportstucson.com

Final Comments – Tucson High faithful should be elated and thanking their lucky stars that Coach Argraves patrols the sidelines for them. There were other schools, like Sunnyside, who were looking to hire coaches in 2011 and in the end, Mt Views loss was Tucson High’s enormous gain. How Mt View let him get away, I’ll never know. The Badger program is on the right track and competing week in and week out with everyone they face, regardless of their opponents ranking. Sunnyside is in the very same place Tucson was in back in 2011. Coach Lopez only arrived one month before their opening game of the season. In my mind, the coaching turnover may have sealed the Blue Devils’ fate for this season but they have invested in a very bright future for themselves. In years to come, Sunnyside faithful will likely be thanking their lucky stars Coach Lopez agreed to accept taking the helm for the Blue Devils.

Lopez: “We played hard, to the very end. Our kids played their (tails) off. We gave up a couple of big plays but I’m proud of the boys. You know, it’s hard to swallow because we really felt we were in the game and we could have won it. We’ll learn from it. It just hurts because these boys deserve more than this and it’s too bad that we didn’t get it.”

Argraves: I asked about the fact that starting against Ironwood Ridge the way they started against Sunnyside will make winning next weeks Senior Game for the Badgers almost impossible to win. He ackowledged that fact, “We have to make sure our kids are mentally in tune. Putting the team ahead of themselves.” When asked about what adjustments he made at half time to simply dominate the Blue Devils, Argraves stated, “We didn’t exploit any weaknesses. It was kids doing their job and we didn’t do our job in the first half. We went in (to the locker room), the kids dug deep and they executed the way they should. We didn’t make many adjustments, if we made any at all, at half time. It was just about effort and attitude. The penalties were ridiculous and that’s something we’ll correct tomorrow morning! That’s probably the worst penalized game I’ve been a part of and that’s something we have to fix as a staff. Can’t afford to do that at state.”

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Born a Wildcat fan, lifetime fanhood was solidified when he was able to meet Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Brandon Sanders, Chuck Levy and Ontiwaun Carter as a sixth grader. Having served 10 years in the armed forces and having been deployed all over the world, he’s still managed to make it to every Arizona home football game, bowl game and at least one away game for the last 12 years. Now combining his love of writing with his love of all things sports, Jose is proud and honored to join AllSportsTucson.com as a writer.

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