Traditionally strong Cienega is a “project” — as head coach Pat Nugent calls the Bobcats — with the likes of dynamic players Jamarye Joiner, Terrell Hayward and Thomas Webb now playing college football.
Being 1-2 is uncommon ground for Nugent, in his 17th season (fifth at Cienega) as a high school head coach in Southern Arizona. For only the fifth time at this level, dating to 1997 when he started his career at Flowing Wells, his team has a losing record after three games.
After an opening win over Cholla, Cienega has been humbled by Phoenix-area teams in the last two weeks — at Phoenix Sunnyslope last week in a 38-10 loss and at home Friday night against nemesis Peoria Centennial 38-14. Centennial has defeated Cienega four times now in the last four years, including twice in the playoffs. Last season, after a 35-0 regular season win over Cienega at home, Centennial beat the Bobcats in the state playoffs 55-7, also at Phoenix.
“We’re trying to figure ourselves out,” said Nugent, who is 128-56 in his career and 38-13 at Cienega. “We have a lot of bumps and bruises right now and we’re not quite who we are or what we are. … Three games in at 1-2, that’s not who we think we are as a Cienega Bobcat, but right now it’s about focusing on ourselves.
“We’ll try to take care of Rincon next week (on the road). Personally, we have to try to get our team better. The coaches have to work hard this week and try to get us up to speed.”
Next week will not be an easy task for Nugent and his staff. Rincon/University has made great strides under second-year coach Mike Strack. The Rangers are 2-1 after Friday night’s 61-14 win over Tanque Verde. Cienega faced Rincon for the first time last season and won 56-14 at home.
.@CienegaFootball standout Isaiah Webb, who had 44-yd fumble strip for TD vs. Centennial, had line of the night (especially for coffee drinkers) following 38-14 loss: “We’ve got carrots. We’ve got hard-boiled eggs. And we’ve got coffee. We have to come out as coffee.” #bewired pic.twitter.com/1Hhv1CD2yW
One area Nugent and his staff will work on this week is the offensive line, which the coach said he anticipated being a strength of team. The Bobcats yielded nine sacks to an aggressive front seven of Centennial on Friday night.
Cienega finished with 87 total yards in offense, including 22 on the ground. Arizona recruit Dyelan Miller, a senior receiver with Centennial, nearly had more yards than Cienega’s entire offense with his 74 yards on four receptions, including a 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown and a diving 9-yard score.
Centennial senior WR Dyelan Miller, an #ArizonaWildcats recruit, talks about his team and his recruitment by the UA. He had four catches for 74 yards with two TDs in the 38-14 win at Cienega. pic.twitter.com/gyyitIXbeH
“We’ve got a lot to work on on offense. That’s evident. That’s clearly not our strong point, but we believe with some work, watching film, breaking it down, we believe that our offense can truly be great when we do what we need to do,” said junior tight end/middle linebacker Isaiah Webb, younger brother of Thomas Webb, who is now playing at Western New Mexico.
“Right now, for us, it’s all about execution. When we start executing, we believe we are going to be a very good team.”
Isaiah cut Centennial’s lead to 14-7 with 2:45 left in the first quarter on a 44-yard fumble return after stripping the ball from a running back. With 5:02 left in the second quarter, the Coyotes converted on a 14-yard pass from Jonathan Morris to Andre Dimbiti, who made a remarkable catch managing to get his right foot down before falling past the back of the end zone.
Refs ruled this a TD catch for Centennial. You be the judge. Centennial 21-7 over Cienega with 5:03 left 2Q. pic.twitter.com/2hPAPMSZwg
Cienega hard trouble putting together sustained drives and Centennial gradually pulled away in the second half.
“Just really bad offense. We’ve got some work. We got some really young quarterbacks going out there and all new running backs, so it’s a growing process,” Nugent said. “I’m glad those two big boys (Sunnyslope and Centennial) are off our schedule right now and it’s back to Tucson and try to get better each week.”
Nugent has a history of ending seasons strong at Cienega. In his previous four years at the school, the record in the last five games of the regular season is a combined 17-3.
His team this season is comprised mostly of juniors with 38.
One of them was backup quarterback Ryan Swoger, who was sacked five times and “running for his life tonight,” as Nugent said, after he replaced injured starter Daniel Montana, who came out of the game after getting sacked in the second quarter.
Swoger, under constant duress, completed 6 of 10 passes for 48 yards. He was replaced midway through the fourth quarter by senior Bobby Beltz.
The Bobcats mustered only two first downs (one by penalty) when Beltz entered the game midway through the fourth quarter. Beltz engineered a 54-yard sdoring drive that included four first downs, including a 19-yard run and 17-yard pass completion to Wyatt Wingstad.
Beltz gave Cienega a boost perhaps with its mindset in practice this week with a 5-yard scoring run to cap the night for the Bobcats. In terms of a boost, Isaiah Hayes used an analogy that his teammates adhere to from the parable, “Carrots, Eggs and Coffee.”
In that story, a mother boils a carrot, egg and coffee beans in three separate pots for a daughter who complained about having to deal with adversity. After 20 minutes, the mom had her daughter touch the weakened, soft carrot and the fragile boiled egg. The coffee, on the other hand, was rich in aroma with a robust taste and it provided energy.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”
“We’ve got carrots, we’ve got hard boiled eggs, we’ve got coffee — we need to come out as coffee,” Isaiah Webb said. “We need to come out as a changed team. We’re a young, inexperienced team. We need to come together.
“And when we come together, put everything together and play as a team, we’ll be great. We will be a force to be reckoned with.”
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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.