Canyon del Oro’s Dustin Peace has coached four teams that have won at least nine games in a season dating to his first season in 2009, when the Dorados won a state title with a 14-0 record with the likes of Josh Robbins (now the school’s defensive coordinator), Ka’Deem Carey and Jared Tevis.
He knows a magical season when he sees one.
When his team gathered after last night’s 21-7 win over Sahuaro in a significant 4A Kino matchup at CDO’s home field, Peace could be heard telling the players, “This is the biggest win this school has had in six or seven years.”
The Dorados made the state playoffs last year and 2016 but were ousted in the first round both times and had a combined nine losses those seasons. They went two rounds into the playoffs in 2014 but were not really challenged in the regular season winning their region games by an average margin of 29 points.
The most substantial win in Peace’s program before last night was in 2013, when the Dorados outlasted Catalina Foothills with coach Jeff Scurran and quarterback Rhett Rodriguez in a 19-12 win in what was then a Division III matchup. Burly running back Max Smith, now in the Minnesota Twins organization after a standout baseball career at UNLV, was one of Peace’s top performers that night.
Behind a tough defense and a solid running game that amassed 192 yards behind Stevie Rocker (71 yards on 20 carries), Gavin Davis (65 yards on 11 rushes) and quarterback Montana Neustadter (13 carries for 56 yards), CDO now stands at 7-0 overall and 2-0 in the 4A Kino.
.@cdo_football coach Dustin Peace on his team being 7-0 and in a favorable position in the 4A ratings after tonight's 21-7 win over Sahuaro: "They're ready for work. They're ready for the challenge. They've answered the call without a doubt." pic.twitter.com/iyXv7VhXGh
The Dorados have fall break at school next week, which will help them concentrate more on Friday’s game at unbeaten and powerful Salpointe, which is the top-rated 4A team in the state and No. 2 in the Open Division.
CDO is No. 10 in the Open Division (the top eight-rated teams 4A-6A make the Open Division state playoffs) and they are No. 3 among 4A teams.
With Salpointe and Scottsdale Saguaro (No. 2 in 4A and No. 5 in the Open Division) likely headed to the Open Division playoffs, CDO appears to be the highest rated team that will be in the 4A state playoffs, which means it will host games in the first couple of rounds.
“To be 7-0, we’re happy. We’re not surprised,” Peace said. “It’s kind of like when we were 14-0 in 2009 (in Peace’s first season). I had no idea we were going to be 14-0. I had no idea we were going to be that explosive.
“This is a little bit of a resemblance. Our defense is so solid that we just stay in games and then eventually, we’ll be able to open things up.”
Peace contends that “one or two tackles” kept CDO from shutting out the Cougars, who have one of the more potent running games in the state with Izaiah Davis, Trevion Watkins and Jamir Gasaway and mobile quarterback in Devyn Roberts.
Sahuaro rushed for 152 yards, which included a breakaway 69-yard touchdown run by Gasaway in the third quarter to cut the lead to 14-7.
CDO's Stevie Rocker with 71 yards on 20 rushes in the Dorados' 21-7 win over Sahuaro. pic.twitter.com/3oncbx1rih
Gasaway returned after missing most of last week’s loss against Salpointe because of an abdominal injury. Davis played his first game after missing most of the last three weeks with an ankle injury. He finished with 71 yards on 10 carries, including a 39-yard run that put the Cougars into CDO territory with the game scoreless early in the third quarter.
Three plays after that Davis run, CDO defensive tackle Nick Contreras recovered a fumble at the Sahuaro 40 to stop the threat. The Dorados went on to score the game’s first points with a touchdown on the ensuing possession on a 37-yard pass from Neustadter to tight end Dustin Sheeley.
Other than the 69-yard run by Gasaway and the 39-yard burst by Davis, the Cougars had 44 yards rushing thanks to four tackles for loss, including a sack.
“Our defensive front is just so strong that we stopped the run, so our coverage needs to be really good,” said safety Ethan Seppala, whose fourth interception of the season stopped a scoring threat with 2:20 left in the game. “I love playing back there (at safety). I’m a ball hawk. But I just have to thank my defensive front again. I couldn’t do it without them.”
CDO safety Ethan Seppala stopped a Sahuaro drive late in the game with his fourth INT of the season in the Dorados' 21-7 win. pic.twitter.com/V5veKdmHF8
That front includes Contreras and linebackers such as Mike Williams, Adam Maldonado and newcomer Chase Randall, a transfer from Catalina Foothills who played in his second game after having to sit out the first five games per AIA transfer rules. Randall had a tackle of the Sahuaro punter late in the first half that gave CDO possession at the Cougars’ 18.
The Dorados could not score because Neustadter was sacked by Jordan Bunting as time expired. On the previous possession, Sahuaro linebacker Gabriel Salinas stripped the ball from Neustadter near the goal line to keep the game scoreless. Izaiah Grigsby recovered the fumble and ran it out of the end zone to the Sahuaro 15.
Peace was so frustrated by coming so close but not scoring in the first half that he threw his headset to the ground in disgust after the sack that ended the half.
CDO QB Montana Neustadter with 152 yards in total offense — 96 in the air and 56 on the ground in the Dorados' win. pic.twitter.com/LPSHEcaaoM
“I calmed down (in the locker room) and made sure our guys knew they could break through and make the plays we needed to win,” Peace said.
“Everybody was just telling each other to keep our heads up, come together as one and keep doing what we’re doing,” said Neustadter, who also completed 9 of 14 pass attempts for 96 yards in the game. “It showed in the second half. We did great.”
Neustadter’s touchdown pass to Sheeley and his 1-yard scoring run — set up by a 17-yard run by Rocker and a 25-yard gain by Davis — put the Cougars up 14-0 with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
CDO RB Gavin Davis with 65 yards on 11 rushes, including a 25-yard run that positioned the Dorados for a TD. pic.twitter.com/nEveAPEFuo
“Our team started getting what we needed to get. We started pushing. We came out a little soft but once we got our team going, we figured ourselves out,” said Rocker, who in his second game since returning from a preseason ankle injury played in front of the watchful eye of Washington running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Keith Bhonapha.
Davis’ 2-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation put CDO up 21-7 with 3:19 left. The score was set up after an errant snap got past the Sahuaro punter and CDO gained possession at the Cougars’ 10. Davis ran three consecutive plays out of the Wildcat for the score.
“Having me and Stevie — it’s one thing to have one good back, but then when you have two, if one gashes them on a big run, you stay on the ball and the next one comes in, they gash them for another one,” Davis said. “It’s hard for a defense to keep up when you have two backs that can go back and forth. When one’s in, the other one is getting a breather … I think that’s something that is really big to have.”
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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.