One by one, emotional members of Sahuaro’s senior class stood in front of their kneeling teammates, many of them sobbing after last night’s season-ending loss, trying to express through their trembling voices what their hearts felt without equivocation.
Many of the 17 seniors on the roster, including Armando Ramos, Calen McFarland, Philip Burish and Preston Young, gave the 31 juniors and sophomores food for thought as the younger players try to advance further next season than what the top-seeded 4A team achieved this season.
“I love you guys. I would not trade you guys for anybody. I would not want to be part of any other team.”
“To you younger guys, win us a state championship. Work hard for it. Do what it takes.”
“Get in that weight room and work your asses off.”
Jordan Bunting of Sahuaro: “I love you guys. I wouldn’t want to be on another team.” pic.twitter.com/fBMJCSd6wn
The coaches expressed to them they will remember each other forever, and when it comes to life, that’s a victory.
Senior running back Izaiah Davis, both ankles heavily taped, grimacing in pain from his legs and his emotions, walked away a few yards from the team to gather himself after the 28-21 loss to No. 9 Yuma Gila Ridge in the 4A state quarterfinal game. Tears streamed on his anguished face.
Running backs coach Lucius Miller, noticing Davis by himself, walked to him slowly. Miller, one of the best sprinters Arizona has featured who was part of some legendary Wildcat relay teams with Vance Johnson, embraced Davis, who cried openly on Miller’s shoulder. At that moment, the final score did not matter as much as the compassionate spirit of growth through adversity.
“We went through a lot, just working out, sticking together. It’s real. It’s a true family,” said Davis, one of the state’s top running backs who finished with 1,120 rushing yards this season on 146 carries despite missing most of three games with an injury.
“Knowing this is my last game and I won’t be with those guys as much, you know, it kills me. I love these guys. The coaches have done so much for me on the field and off the field. I love them. Now, it’s on to the next step in life and hope I can play college ball and then just, you know, make a new family and extend it.”
Davis was part of one of the best running back trios this state has seen.
He and junior Jamir Gasaway, who rushed for 139 yards on 10 carries, eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing this season. They became the second duo this season in Southern Arizona (Desert View’s tandem of Serge Gboweiah and Carlos Alvarez was the other) and the ninth in the last 10 years to achieve the feat. Gasaway completed his season with 1,081 yards and 14 touchdowns on only 59 carries, a phenomenal average of 18.3 yards per carry. Gasaway could have had more last night but a 79-yard scoring run in the second half was nullified by a holding penalty.
Fellow running back Trevion Watkins, another junior, finished the season with 755 yards on 129 carries.
Southern Arizona Running Back Dynamic DuosTeammates who have rushed for more than 1,000 yards each in a season in the last decade.
|Year||School (Rec.)||Running Back||Carries-Yards||Running Back||Carries-Yards|
|2019||Sahuaro (9-3)||Izaiah Davis||146-1,120||Jamir Gasaway||59-1,081|
|2019||Desert View (6-4)||Serge Gboweiah||171-1,404||Carlos Alvarez||140-1,078|
|2013||Empire (6-4)||Sean Fitzsimmons||178-1,683||Chance Hatfield||217-1,133|
|2012||Empire (8-4)||Spencer Woody||132-1,054||Chance Hatfield||162-1,041|
|2012||Ironwood Ridge (13-1)||Anthony Braunreiter||239-1,766||Tyler Williams||172-1,143|
|2012||Salpointe (12-2)||Johnny Pena||225-1,526||Cameron Denson||69-1,026|
|2011||Ironwood Ridge (10-3)||Mitch Fischer||249-2,143||Tyler Williams||148-1,043|
|2010||Amphi (11-2)||Alex Avitia||144-1,613||Sam Nunez||129-1,007|
|2009||Sabino (11-3)||Stephen Fraser||180-1,472||Keanu Nelson||132-1,276|
A difference in the loss to Gila Ridge, other than Sahuaro’s four turnovers and the play of the Hawks’ quarterback Cassell Wiggins and running back Renan Duarte, was the ability of Gila Ridge’s defense to control the Cougars’ dangerous running game, especially in the second half after Sahuaro built a 21-7 halftime lead.
Davis, Gasaway and Watkins had 189 yards on 32 carries in the game, but only 19 yards on 13 carries in the second half. Sahuaro was forced to pass more in the second half with Gila Ridge loading the box.
“I just had to do my part to help my team build the momentum up and keep rolling. Tonight, we were clicking but we just cut off,” said Gasaway, who had touchdown runs of 46 and 90 yards in the first half.
While Sahuaro’s offense struggled in the second half, Gila Ridge’s came to life behind Wiggins, Duarte and receiver Dominique Jones. Wiggins completed two touchdown passes in the second half and caught a one-handed 23-yard pass on a halfback option that led to a score. Jones, a towering presence at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, went without a reception in the first half but had the go-ahead 67-yard reception in the fourth quarter. Duarte had 64 of his 83 yards rushing in the second half including a touchdown.
“They are a big, physical team,” Sahuaro coach Scott McKee said. “We knew we were in for a tough challenge as the game went on.”
.@SahuaroFB2019 RB Jamir Gasaway should be on the college recruiting radar. No question. Arizona would be well-served giving him a look. Electrifying runner had 139 yards on 10 carries, including a 90-yard TD run. An 89-yard TD run was called back in second half. pic.twitter.com/g8WZjSnFvR
Despite Gasaway’s long run called back, Sahuaro still had a chance to retake the lead in the fourth quarter after Devyn Roberts connected with Ahmad Hunter on a 51-yard pass on third-and-20 to Gila Ridge territory. But a fumble stopped the drive at the Hawks’ 31.
Wiggins followed with the 67-yard TD pass in which Jones used his height and athleticism to leap for the pass and elude the defender enabling Gila Ridge to go ahead 28-21 with 7:20 left in the game.
After punting and forcing Gila Ridge to punt, Sahuaro had one last chance at its own 23 with 1:33 left, but an interception ended the Cougars’ chance.
Devyn Roberts to Ahmad Hunter for 51 yards on a 3rd-and-22 play. pic.twitter.com/Led8R7rVze
After the disheartening loss, McKee kept to the values he learned from his father Larry, a former Arizona standout and local high school football coach and administrator. He did what his mentor Dick Tomey would have done after such a tough loss. He kept it simple, straight from the heart. This was not the time to lay into a team or take up too much time from others who had something to say.
“We didn’t get it done,” he told his team, “but I’ll tell you right now, I am proud of you guys for who you are.”
That’s all the former Arizona walk-on who earned a scholarship through his perseverance needed to say.
McKee told me after, “Nobody walks away from this thing happy except for one team and to think for these guys to lose 29 seniors last year and come back with a group of guys that didn’t play a lot last year, just role players, and for them to come and lead us to a nine-win season and a number one seed, that’s a hell of an accomplishment and those guys have a lot to be proud of. It’s us finding a way to raise the bar. It’s us finding a way to get even tighter discipline-wise getting stronger in the weight room. But with all these kids we’ve got this program, we’ll be right back here again.”
Long after the team left to the locker room or to the adjacent field to be with family, McKee walked off the field with Davis alone, letting him know how much he appreciated his fortitude battling back from injuries most of the season, including last night’s game in which Davis had to miss a series while his ankles were heavily taped.
McKee put his arm around Davis with emphasis.
The scoreboard in the background for this game against Gila Ridge was turned off.
The game of life goes on with Sahuaro, McKee and Davis still driving.
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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.