Cienega is the school of quarterback Jamarye Joiner, all-purpose offensive threat Terrell Hayward, elusive runner Dakota Poe with brother Edgar Poe, a productive receiver. The Bobcats also had bruising backThomas Webb Jr. Seth Mejias-Brean, before he played in the majors, excelled at quarterback for the Bobcats.
Pat Nugent has an offensive coaching background, guiding the Bobcats’ running backs before he took over the job there in 2015 after serving as head coach at Flowing Wells, CDO and Pima College.
The words “defense” and “Cienega” have not necessarily mixed at the Vail school, until this season, dating to when Nemer Hassey was the head coach from 2002 to 2014. In somewhat of a newsflash, the Bobcats have achieved a school-record three shutout victories this season after their 10-0 victory over host Ironwood Ridge on Friday night.
.@CienegaFootball DT Hunter Schlagel big reason (literally with his 6-foot-2 and 278-pound size) the Bobcats earned their third shutout of the season — a school record — with the 10-0 win over Ironwood Ridge. pic.twitter.com/lOKrEpClGZ
“It surprised me throughout the Nemer Hassey days and all that (earning the shutout record),” said Nugent. “It just tells you how many offensive weapons we had and we put a lot of points up and were not worried about defense for so many years.”
The pressure applied by the defensive front including tackle Hunter Schlagel and ends Damaggio Strevay and Bryce Marks with help from linebackers J.T. Craig and David Wilkinson was suffocating for Ironwood Ridge’s offense. The Bobcats played without standout linebacker Isaiah Webb, who has been out for the last month with a left foot injury but is still active yelling his encouragement from the sideline.
Talented Ironwood Ridge back Brandon Barrios, who put together a Bijan Robinson-esque string of five consecutive games averaging 196.8 yards, was held to 76 yards on 20 carries. He has 1,387 yards rushing on 222 carries this season.
“That kid’s had a great season all year long and to shut him down … up front is where we win games,” Nugent said. “They put so much pressure on the quarterbacks. It’s not so much the secondary, it’s the pressure we put on them. The kid makes a bad throw and we make plays in the secondary.”
An interception by Tra Denetso in the end zone with 5:09 left in the game preserved Cienega’s 10-0 lead. Cienega also blanked Marana (46-0) and Mountain View (14-0) this season.
The victory is Cienega’s seventh straight after a 1-2 start that included losses to Phoenix-area schools Sunnyslope and Centennial. The Bobcats, ranked No. 10 among 5A schools, will likely host a first-round playoff game on Friday with a record of 8-2 overall and 5-0 as the 5A Southern champions.
Just two years ago on Ironwood Ridge’s field, Cienega outlasted the Nighthawks 56-55 in overtime on its way to a region title. Joiner threw for 211 yards and rushed for 207 and Hayward had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Nick Brahler gained 213 yards on the ground for Ironwood Ridge and Heath Beemiller was effective throwing for 143 yards for two touchdowns.
How times have changed in only two years.
“As far as defense, I don’t know after this effort against this particular team if we have to correct or fine-tune things on defense,” said Ironwood Ridge first-year coach James Hardy Jr. “But offensively, when we get the ball, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties and mistakes. … It’s the little things that set us back and put is in situations where we don’t need to be.”
The Nighthawks are 5-5 but a non-region schedule against Mountain View (6-4), Millennium (8-2), Campo Verde (7-3), Centennial (9-1) and Desert View (6-4) — combined record of 36-14 — should be enough to get them in the 5A playoffs. Before Friday, they were ranked No. 14 but with potentially three 5A teams slated to move to the Open Division playoffs, they were a No. 11 seed out of 16 teams.
Ironwood Ridge’s defense, led by senior linebacker Luca Moioli and senior defensive end Octavio Audry-Cobos, was also stifling for most of the game.
.@irhsfbbooster RB Brandon Barrios has plenty to be proud about in 2019 gaining well over 1,000 yards rushing and now getting multiple scholarship offers from DII schools. Came out of nowhere and now should have more chances in the 5A playoffs with the Nighthawks. pic.twitter.com/x3H7f0jmEg
Cienega scored a touchdown on its second possession of the game but was held in check most of the rest of the way. The 9-yard touchdown run by Tristan Pralle with 4:49 left in the first quarter was set up by a 39-yard pass from Ryan Swoger to Sebastian Felix.
The Bobcats increased the lead to 10-0 on Juliano Reis’ 23-yard field goal with 2:59 left in the second quarter.
Ironwood Ridge threatened twice in the scoreless second half for both teams. Moioli’s fumble recovery at the Cienega 40 in the third quarter resulted in a turnover on downs and Denetso’s interception stopped the Nighthawks’ scoring threat in the fourth quarter.
“I think our defense is best aspect of Cienega,” Schlagel said. “We’ve got great coaches all around. We’ve got great players who know what they are doing. If we read stuff pretty well, we should be good.”
Strevay became emotional talking about his brethren on defense.
“This defense is one of the best groups I’ve ever been a part of,” said Strevay, a three-year varsity letterman. “I’ve never trusted anyone any more than this group. Everyone does their job. Everyone knows it’s not about themselves. It’s about the whole team.
“Every play, everybody knows their job and goes full bore. I can’t commend them enough tonight. it was a beautiful effort.”
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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.