Sunnyside’s homecoming appeared to be one that was certain to have a festive conclusion with the Blue Devils leading Southside rival Pueblo by 13 points at halftime following a 95-yard scoring drive engineered by freshman quarterback Deion Conde.
The Warriors, however, emerged victorious 22-21 shutting out Sunnyside’s potent offense in the second half while utilizing their strong running game. The Blue Devils (1-3) also had costly penalties late.
Pueblo, whose coach Brandon Sanders adheres to the team principles of the late Dick Tomey, his coach at Arizona, is 4-0 for the first time since 1992. More important to Sanders and the Warriors: Their non-region wins over neighborhood rivals Tucson High, Cholla and Sunnyside — all three of those schools within a 5-mile radius of Pueblo’s campus.
Former #ArizonaWildcats and Desert Swarm standout Brandon Sanders started this rousing postgame speech to his @PuebloFootball team after its 22-21 win over Sunnyside: “The team! The team! The team!” like his late coach Dick Tomey addressed the Wildcats. pic.twitter.com/acNYhnmUlD
The Warriors had never swept all three in one season. All were scheduled against Pueblo in one season 28 times dating to 1972.
“All these kids, man, their relatives, their friends, they go to elementary schools to middle schools, and play in Pop Warner together — the whole get-down,” said Sanders, who made it a point to remind his team about the wins at the end of their post-game huddle.
“It is extra special because of the way we had to do it (in the comeback win over Sunnyside).”
Conde, who plays bigger than his 5-foot-8 and 165-pound frame, capped the masterful 10-play drive that took less than 4 minutes with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Brock McDaniel with 11 seconds left in the half to put Sunnyside up 21-8.
Conde completed 6 of 8 passes on the drive for 73 yards. Martin Arvizu also had a 21-yard run on Sunnyside’s first play in the possession to get the Blue Devils out of the shadows of their own end zone.
A sight often not seen, especially in what appeared to be dire circumstances: Sanders, with a look of determination, lined up his players and they walked single-file — as they do routinely — to the locker room for halftime.
“Stick to our four principles,” Sanders said he told his team in the locker room. “Play with pride. Stay together. Believe. And then you have to finish it.
“I told them that we are going to finish it. It’s going to be better when they push all the way through. This game for sure because of the rivalry was going to test our faith in all of those things.”
.@PuebloFootball RB Julian Lopez all smiles despite turning an ankle late in the 22-21 win over Sunnyside. He finished with 121 yards on 11 rushes, including a 71-yard run that sparked the Warriors after they fell behind 14-0 with 8:27 left in the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/MOKZbGqfRc
Pueblo’s outlook earlier in the game looked bleak after Sunnyside took a 14-0 lead with 8:27 left in the second quarter. Arvizu rushed for a 6-yard score and Conde connected on a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jose Acosta on consecutive possessions after the Warriors were forced to punt on their first three possessions.
Julian Lopez, who gained 172 yards on the ground in last week’s win over Cholla, was only at 3 yards rushing on four carries before he broke free for a 71-yard run to the Sunnyside 9 with about 8 minutes left to halftime.
Three plays later, quarterback Marcelino Vega scored on a 1-yard keeper and then converted the 2-point conversion run to cut Sunnyside’s lead to 14-8 with 6:32 left in the half.
“That (71-yard run) definitely pushed my team up,” said Lopez, who finished with 121 yards on 11 carries. “I felt the energy after I was done with my run. Everybody was hyped again. It kept on the game the whole way.”
Pueblo managed to persevere despite failing to cash in on an interception by Ricardo Laguna, having to punt afterward. Then came Conde’s direction of the 95-yard scoring drive before halftime.
Sunnyside had possession to open the third quarter and started in good field position at its 42 after a short kickoff. Three straight runs by Arvizu gained nine yards to the Pueblo 49. Sunnyside went for it on fourth-and-1 and Arvizu was stopped 1 yard behind the line forcing the turnover on downs.
“I told them, ‘We’re all right,'” Sanders said. “They made some plays, and our guys kind of didn’t want to stay together in the first half. We needed this test. Once that happened, okay, are you going to believe because they’re going to test our belief.”
The momentum swung to Pueblo after that fourth-down stop led by senior lineman Sergio Zazueta and linebacker Jesus Prado.
Vega had a significant 34-yard pass completion to Apiew Garang to get Pueblo to the Sunnyside 2. After Vega was stopped for a loss of 2 yards, Oscar Landry ran for a 4-yard touchdown, and after another successful 2-point conversion run, Pueblo cut the lead to 21-16 with 8:02 left in the third quarter.
Landry finished with 52 yards on five carries. Pueblo rushed 32 times for 230 yards.
On Sunnyside’s ensuing possession, a potential 41-yard scoring run by Angel Cano was called back because of a holding penalty, one of a few penalties that doomed the Blue Devils late in the game. Sunnyside was forced to punt.
Pueblo then drove 71 yards on 10 plays — all rushing plays — to score, culminating on Vega’s 1-yard keep for a touchdown with 11:41 left in regulation. After the failed 2-point conversion pass, Pueblo led for the first time 22-21.
Lopez opened the drive with a 19-yard run and had three carries for 32 yards in the possession.
“They really tested us and we came out with the right mentality to win this game,” he said.
Cano had a 35-yard kickoff return to the 50, but the Sunnyside drive stalled thanks in part to a holding penalty. After forcing Pueblo to punt with 6:32 remaining, Sunnyside had another shot for the go-ahead score.
FINAL: @PuebloFootball comes in to the #DevilsChamber to get 22-21 WIN! Great game in the #Southside! Defense with some huge stops! Warriors now 4-0 with #CatalinaFoothills visiting the #Block next week! #Homecoming pic.twitter.com/gr8lC8PLIq
A 31-yard pass from Conde to Anthony Galvez helped set up a 33-yard field goal attempt by C.J. Vasquez, one of the best kickers in the state who plays for the Blue Devils’ state champion soccer team. The attempt was good but a false start penalty forced him to try a 38-yarder that went slightly wide left with 2:38 remaining.
Sunnyside had one timeout remaining, which it used before Pueblo had a third-down situation at its own 38 with close to a minute left. An untimely personal foul penalty on Sunnyside after a tackle gave Pueblo a first down and the Warriors ran out the clock for the victory.
“They needed a test; they needed somebody to hit them,” Sanders said of his team. “They needed to see, can they bounce back? Can they push? Now they see it. Now they have that belief.”
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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.