Cienega coach Pat Nugent voiced concerns about his team not yet getting “punched in the mouth” and seeing how the Bobcats would respond heading into last night’s home game against Phoenix Sunnyslope.
His team did not scrimmage against another school like other programs did in the Tucson area and the Bobcats were coming off a ho-hum 58-0 win in the season opener at Cholla last week, a game that was postponed a day because of a lightning storm and some of the Chargers could not show up because of prior commitments.
Cienega showed no signs of backing down last night to any of the proverbial punches Sunnyslope tried to throw in a dominating 35-7 win. The victory improved Nugent’s five-year record at Cienega to 30-8 and also increased the Bobcats’ home winning streak to 17 games and regular-season victory count to 25 straight games.
“I told the kids before the game that I want them to come to me and say, ‘I proved you wrong coach,'” Nugent said. “The scary thing is the unknown. We’re always worried about the unknown. We weren’t sure what we were going to do tonight. … We have guys who make plays and that’s what we did tonight.”
If Nugent was concerned how Cienega would weather Sunnyslope’s challenge, he must be thinking of sleepless nights ahead preparing for powerhouse Peoria Centennial next week on the road. Centennial, the reigning Class 5A state champs, beat perennially strong Las Vegas Bishop Gorman 13-7 last night in Peoria.
Centennial had four takeaways against Gorman and running back Tawee Walker had two touchdown runs, including a 24-yard sprint in which he outran Gorman’s secondary. It will be a tall order for Cienega’s defense, which looked overpowering last night against Sunnyslope.
The defense limited the Vikings to only 59 yards rushing on 20 carries and they constantly put the pressure on quarterback Nick Hael with an aggressive style from their front. Hael passed 30 times, completing 15, for 160 yards, and was picked off once by Terrell Hayward.
Diego Rivas, a linebacker strong on the blitz, had the other takeaway, a fumble recovery in the first quarter.
Cienega defensive end Damaggio Strevay was another one of the players who wreaked havoc on Hael — “He was getting very frustrated … the O-line couldn’t block us,” Strevay said — and the performance has him confident about the challenge ahead at Centennial.
“I believe this team can really do some work on that team, I really do. I think we’ll do well,” Strevay said. “No. 1 team last year in 5A in the state. … It’s going to be a great game. I’m loving it. I’m super excited.”
Cienega senior quarterback Luis Morales has the dubious task of following star player Jamarye Joiner, who is now at Arizona. The 5-foot-10 and 165-pound Morales did his best to follow in Joiner’s footsteps, literally, last night scrambling for yards and eluding tacklers while completing passes on the run.
Morales completed 11 of 16 pass attempts for 223 yards and three touchdown passes, all in the third quarter when Cienega’s athleticism took over against the Vikings (0-2). Morales also rushed for 42 yards on 12 carries.
“I think about (following Joiner) every once in a while but I can’t let it get to me,” Morales said. “I’ve gotta stick to my ability, stick to what my job is on the field and that’s pretty much what my mindset is right now. Jamarye hits me up a couple of times and wishes me good luck. I do the same thing as well.”
Morales’ touchdown connections were of the big-play variety — a 29-yard pass to Diego Rubi in which Morales scrambled left and threw across his body completing the pass in the end zone, a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown sprint by Geo Owens and a perfect 54-yard pass in stride to Hayward along the sideline.
“Luis did great, he stepped up, he was a star tonight,” said Hayward, who battled through a cold and still finished with his interception and six catches for 128 yards. “That’s something that we expect out of him and he rises to it every time. He’s doing good on the field.”
Nugent has indicated this is his deepest team at Cienega. Thomas Webb Jr. matched with Hayward and Owens as athletic offensive threats gives Nugent a variety of ways to attack a defense. Webb rushed for two touchdowns and Owens ran for 44 yards on eight carries.
Webb is also the punter. He had two punts of 45 yards, one of which pinned Sunnyslope at its 1-yard line.
Nugent said his offense’s goal is to get Hayward at least 12 touches, but the talented senior had only nine (six catches and three rushes), partly because Morales is getting acclimated. Rather than pitching to Hayward, or handing off to him, Morales felt more comfortable keeping the ball for a run.
Morales said as time goes on, the confidence will grow, and the offense should open up more.
Nugent knows for his team to have a chance to upset Centennial his team’s confidence must translate into inspired, error-free execution.
The Bobcats have played to that form thus far. They have outscored their first two opponents 93-7 and went almost seven quarters to start the season without allowing a score (Sunnyslope scored its lone touchdown with 40.9 seconds left in the third quarter).
“Our kids will be fired up to go play (Centennial),” Nugent said. “We’ll see if we can take that punch and see if we can respond to it.”
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.