Only two years ago, Buena not only lost its third straight season opener since Joe Thomas took over as coach, the Colts were also mired in a 22-game losing streak overall dating to 2014 under the previous coaching staff.
That was 21 games into the Thomas era at Sierra Vista and the coach was still without a win. How could any coach survive an 0-21 start?
That same coach stood in front of his team Friday night after a 35-6 triumph at Catalina Foothills — his first season-opening victory in his fifth season at Buena — and told them: “We can be proud of this win, but we expected to win.”
Buena coach Joe Thomas addressing his team after a solid road win over Catalina Foothills. pic.twitter.com/PFNsGdXz7J
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The dominating performance in the Coaches for Charity Kickoff Classic gives Thomas a 12-8 record since that 0-21 start. The victory came against former Buena standout Darius Kelly, who made his head coaching debut with Catalina Foothills after playing at Pima College and Syracuse.
Kelly was on Buena’s staff in 2015, the first of two 0-10 seasons under Thomas, before he was an assistant coach at Division II school St. Anselm at New Hampshire the last three seasons.
After he was asked if it was difficult to coach against Kelly, Thomas said, “No, because it was business. I love the guy. He’s a great guy but it’s all business. He didn’t coach to let me win. I didn’t coach to let him win.
“We’re only going to get better if we try to coach our butts off and get ready to battle. I didn’t look over at him because you never want it to be an emotional game that way. You just have to take care of business and hope his guys come out healthy and they go 9-1 now.”
Once downtrodden, Buena came away from Friday night’s win believing an unbeaten season can happen if the players don’t lose sight of the game next on the schedule.
That next game is against Class 5A foe Sahuaro in the Colts’ home opener Friday. Buena beat the Cougars on the road last season.
“I remember going 0-10 my freshman year (in 2016) starting as a varsity quarterback,” said senior captain Jovoni Borbon, who overcame two early interceptions to throw for 165 yards while completing 7 of 10 passes overall with three touchdown strikes.
“Our attitude’s different. Our mentality is different. All these guys are on board to win.”
Borbon, who was not sacked and rushed for 46 yards on five carries, got the season off right with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jesse Avina to cap the Colts’ first possession with 7:25 left in the first quarter.
The Colts converted the two-point conversion pass to take an 8-0 lead after catching Catalina Foothills off guard with Blake Yeagley uncovered to the far right when the snap for the extra-point attempt was made. Keyon Taylor connected with Yeagley on the throw with 7:25 left in the first quarter.
Taylor, one of the fastest players on the team, also has a credible arm. Trickery allowed him to draw defenders to him on a handoff at Buena’s 9-yard line with less than a minute to halftime. He looked up and saw 6-foot-2 senior target Kemish Riley wide open. Two Catalina Foothills defenders tried to track down Riley but he managed to break free for the 91-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left until halftime, increasing Buena’s lead to 22-6.
Buena QB Jovoni Borbon (3 TD passes), one of the best leaders at his position in the state, talks about the 35-6 win at Catalina Foothills tonight. pic.twitter.com/lXD40TGbQL
“Originally, I was supposed to run a sweep, and if our receiver was open, I was going to throw it to him and that’s what I did,” Taylor said. “When I threw it, I thought it was a little low because I rushed but he definitely caught it and he definitely scored.”
Riley, who earlier caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Borbon, played with the junior varsity last season after a freshman season in which he admittedly was a “little lazy.” How’s this for a turnaround? Riley’s first two catches at the varsity level were touchdown receptions. That’s all the catches he made in the game.
“I’ve picked it up this year,” he said after his two receptions for 122 yards. “We came in and executed (against Catalina Foothills) and we just want to win the rest of our games this season.”
Buena WR Keyon Taylor had a 91-yard TD pass and 94-yard TD reception for the Colts in their 35-6 win at Catalina Foothills in the season opener. pic.twitter.com/QJLBOgfwGz
If the Colts continue to manufacture big plays like Friday, they will remain unstoppable. Taylor, only a sophomore, also caught a 94-yard touchdown pass from Borbon in the third quarter on a sideline pattern in which he outran the defender.
“We have a lot of weapons and it’s just spreading the wealth,” Thomas said. “We have to get our running game going a little bit better. We don’t have the big backs so we have to hit the holes quick or the outside quick, move people around and spread them around.
“If they start creeping up, throw the pass. If the start backing up, we’ll try to hit some dingers underneath.”
At this time last year, Buena WR Kemish Riley was playing JV ball. In his first varsity game tonight, the 6-foot-2 junior receiver caught two touchdown passes of 31 and 91 yards in the 35-6 win at Catalina Foothills. pic.twitter.com/JmNKq7r674
As dangerous as Buena’s spread offense looked against the Falcons, its defense was more impressive. The Colts did not allow a Catalina Foothills back to gain more than 55 yards.
Buena made a significant stand with 7:39 left in the third quarter after Catalina Foothills drove from its 20 to the Colts’ 7-yard line. A fourth down-and-5 attempt from there was stopped at the 5 on a tackle by junior linebacker Isaac Benoit, preserving Buena’s 22-6 lead (see video below).
Three plays later, in Buena’s possession, Borbon hooked up with Taylor for the 94-yard touchdown pass that felt like a knockout punch to the Falcons’ hopes.
“All offseason we wanted our defense to be able to make plays for us because if our offense is not doing well, our defense should be able to stop somebody,” Thomas said. “I think we have the best linebackers we’ve ever had at Buena High School since I started (with Benoit, sophomore William Stemler and Riley among others) . We’ve got some new DBs but we have some guys who are playing.
“I was happy with the defense to give up only six points. Our defensive coordinator Lawrence Boutte and our guys did a great job tonight.”
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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.