Cienega High School went toe-to-toe, punch-for-punch against an improved Buena team in a game that featured the wildest plays and circumstances imaginable Friday night.
In the end, the 10th-ranked Bobcats left Sierra Vista Friday night with a 31-14 win, still unbeaten and undaunted in their quest for a 5A Southern title.
“You know it’s kind of funny, we had some time today. I showed the kids the Gotti-Ward fight today about taking punches and being able to come back as champions and be able to go toe-to-toe in a battle we would see tonight,” Cienega coach Pat Nugent said, referring to the legendary Arturo Gatti vs. Mickey Ward boxing match in 2002.
“Our kids wanted to play. … Our kids just kept battling. This is a championship program that we expect them to keep fighting all the way until the end and that’s what they did tonight.”
The victory over No. 14 Buena improves Cienega to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in the 5A Southern. No. 13 Marana travels to Vail on Friday at 4-2 and 1-1 in what figures to be another knock-down, drag-out affair.
Last night’s victory for Cienega over Buena, which is 4-3 and 1-1 less than two years removed from a 22-game losing streak, included these dramatic twists and turns:
— Cienega quarterback Luis Morales did not travel with the team because of personal reasons. He showed up by halftime and played in the second half. Thomas Webb Jr., who does everything for the Bobcats except serve as water boy, filled in the starting role at quarterback and promptly engineered a seven-play, 67-yard touchdown drive capped by his 14-yard score with 8:37 left in the first quarter.
Two possessions later, after Webb connected on a 28-yard pass with ultra-fast Terrell Hayward, he scored on a 5-yard run to put the Bobcats ahead 14-0 with 1:13 left in the first quarter.
— Webb is also a punter, a very capable one. On Cienega’s second possession of the game, the snap went over Webb’s head and the ball rolled into the end zone. Webb, keeping his composure, scooped up the ball, quickly turned to facing the field, and had the presence of mind to punt instead of trying to run with the ball. The booming kick with a favorable Cienega bounce went 50 yards to the Buena 30.
“It’s just knowing the game, and knowing the situation too,” said Webb, who finished with 41 yards on 11 carries with three touchdowns and punted four times for an average of 41.5 yards. “The ball goes over my head … luckily, I used my athleticism a little bit and kind of scrambled it out. I tried to use my athleticism and tried to kick it was far as I can.
“I knew during that situation, in that time period, we really couldn’t afford a touchdown or being down at the yard line.”
— Buena later fought back in the second quarter with a 95-yard scoring drive, cutting the lead to 14-7 on an 8-yard pass from Jovoni Borbon to Mandrell Garrick. Borbon, who completed all three of his passing attempts for 64 yards in the drive, almost put the Colts in a position to tie the game in the last play of the half.
Three straight completions for 54 yards got Buena to the Cienega 3-yard line. After the Bobcats managed a tackle for loss of one yard, Borbon threw a pass intended for Young Schwinof but Cienega cornerback Diego Rubi tipped the pass and made the interception in the end zone.
Rubi ran 100 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown but the officials assessed an illegal participation penalty against Cienega because some of the Bobcats ran on to the field in celebration during Rubi’s return.
“We went into halftime and realized it’s on us. We’re not going to get any calls tonight, right?” said Hayward, who had 150 all-purpose yards, including a 27-yard interception return and a pivotal 45-yard punt return late in the game.
“We had the Sierra Vista refs. We knew that. We came back at the ref and said, ‘You know what, hell of a play.’ But it’s our fault. We came back and knew we had to focus more and be more disciplined on the sideline.”
WILD finish to the first half. Cienega CB Diego Rubi intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for what looked like a TD. BUT Cienega bench flagged for coming on the field during the return. TD nullified. What a swing. Bobcats still lead Buena 14-7 at the half. pic.twitter.com/uyicrcH9LT
— Borbon struck again in the first possession of the second half, hitting Garrick in stride for an 82-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 14 with 10:52 left in the third quarter. Borbon completed 16 of 30 passes for 300 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Garrick had seven receptions for 184 yards.
Cienega got a taste for what it will be like facing prolific passer Trenton Bourguet of Marana next week.
“We have to work on our pass game,” Nugent said. “This is the first team that’s really passed on us all year and we showed some weaknesses tonight. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board a little bit for this week. We’re going to see the best quarterback in the city.”
— Cienega’s defense held firm on Buena’s next possession forcing the Colts to punt from their own 12. Hayward’s 45-yard punt return to the Colts’ 5-yard line set up Webb’s scoring run on the next play to put Cienega up 21-14 with 6:15 left in the third quarter.
— Unrelated to the game, but adding to the wild nature of it, a male streaker wearing white tight shorts ran the length of the field all the way out to the southside of the stadium into the darkness.
— After a 25-yard field goal by Ezra Figueroa gave Cienega a 24-14 lead with 5:01 left in the game, linebacker Zach Mattas came up with a huge sack on Borbon with Buena facing a fourth-and-6 at the Bobcats’ 26 with 2:38 left.
If Buena converts that down, it could have scored, making it only a 3-point lead for the Bobcats. But after the sack, two plays later, Kaleb Beard ran 62 yards for a touchdown to put the finishing touch on the important win for the Bobcats.
“The blitz that we called I had one-on-one with the quarterback so I had to watch him,” Mattas said. “I saw him roll out one way. When I saw him open field, I had this tackle.”