Cienega’s antidote to six turnovers, including four on CDO’s side of the field, was a strong dose of Gabe Levy running between the tackles in the visiting Bobcats’ 28-14 win on Friday night.
Levy, a senior, rushed for 219 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns and quarterback Ryan Swoger showed his dual-threat capability with 11 rushes for 135 yards with two scoring runs.
Levy, a rock at 6-foot and 200 pounds, got a bulk of his yards running up the gut. Swoger, lean and swift at 6-3 and 190, committed to FCS school South Dakota State this week as an athlete. He used his speed and athleticism on the perimeter.
.@CienegaFootball RB @Levy_G8 finished with more than 200 yards rushing in the Bobcats’ 28-14 win over CDO to open the season. Most of his runs were up the gut and he was hard to bring down. pic.twitter.com/PgjjW1KN9p
“Everyone worked their ass off — the linemen — everyone did their jobs,” said Levy, a senior who had 982 yards rushing on 145 carries last season. “Our bread and butter — Power Zebra — running up the middle. It means a lot to me to be able to come out (strong).
“We thought we weren’t going to have a season this year. Thanks to all the coaches, the parents, who fought for us to have a season. It means a lot to us right now.”
The game was the season-opener for both teams, more than two months after the regular season was originally scheduled to begin. The teams were not on each other’s original schedule. Local coaches and administrators devised new schedules last month, hopeful of a season in the midst of COVID-19, and pitted Cienega coach Pat Nugent and his pupil Dustin Peace against each other.
.@CienegaFootball coach Pat Nugent comments about overcoming six turnovers, Gabe Levy ‘s 200-yard rushing game, returning to CDO where he coached for nine years and trying to get a game next week for Senior Night for his players after Nogales canceled. pic.twitter.com/NrcO563gUt
Nugent, who coached at CDO for nine seasons through 2008, won for the second time at his former school. That team, with linebacker Will Walker and defensive back Dakota Poe, also beat Peace’s Dorados 31-28 in 2015 at CDO’s field.
“I love this place; I love Dusty to death,” said Nugent, who coached Peace at Flowing Wells and had him on his staff at CDO. “It was nine great years for me (at CDO). This facility has been great but it was about the Cienega Bobcats tonight.
“I’m just glad our kids got the win tonight and whatever happens the next couple of weeks, we know we got one under our belt.”
Cienega turned the ball over from the start, on the opening kickoff, and had drives come to an end on CDO’s 15-yard line twice, the 5 and the 37.
CDO quarterback Montana Neustadter capitalized on the Dorados recovering the fumble on the opening kickoff by rushing for a 16-yard touchdown with 9:53 remaining in the first quarter.
After Levy rushed for a 4-yard touchdown, in a drive that included a 20-yard burst by Swoger, a pick-6 returned 15 yards by CDO cornerback Anthony Raef put the Dorados ahead 14-7 with 2:19 left in the first quarter.
CDO was shut out the rest of the way with a defense coached by new coordinator Jeff Bollnow (son of longtime local referee Kirby Bollnow) and defensive assistant Al Alexander (Dennis Bene’s associate head coach at Salpointe the last few years).
The Bobcats, who return seven starters on defense from last season, anchored by senior tackle Hunter Schlagel, swarmed to the ball. The Bobcats kept talented Arizona running back commit Stevie Rocker Jr. in check and came up with an opportunistic turnover on their own when Andrew Husfelt recovered a fumble at the Bobcats’ 11 in the first quarter to stop a CDO threat.
“I’m just proud of us; it definitely wasn’t pretty but our defense played phenomenal,” Swoger said. “Our defense carried over from last year, even better than last year. Our defense was killing it.
“Our O, we made mistakes in the Red Zone with attention to detail. Things will get fixed. They’re all fixable. I’m not too worried.”
What a week for @CienegaFootball QB @mrswoger. First commits to @GoJacksSDSU and then helps lead the Bobcats to a 28-14 win over CDO with his ability to run and pick up significant gains. #ASThssports pic.twitter.com/52TfiUdEI7
Swoger can have that confidence knowing Levy is behind him and linemen such as Husfelt and Schlagel are in front of him. No team in the state has a tougher, more physical, core than that trio.
“To walk off the field against a Dusty Peace football team and be up despite six turnovers, I’ll take that every day of the week,” Nugent said. “Gabe’s a downhill runner, we knew that going in. He’s a kid who doesn’t get highly regarded in the state or anything like that but we knew what we had going into this season.
“He’s worked so hard offseason to be one of the best players in Tucson and he really proved that. We have to get him the ball as many times as we can and I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
The turning point was when Nugent called for Levy to rush the ball seven times out of the eight plays in a 58-yard scoring drive capped by Levy’s 3-yard touchdown run with 7:01 left in the first half to tie the game at 14.
Levy gained 57 yards on that possession, which included rushes for 11, 10 and 16 yards.
“Gabe’s a beast. Gabe’s an animal,” Swoger said. “I love watching him run. He’s special for sure. Having him. He does his thing. I love watching Gabe.”
Cienega threated again on its next possession, driving to the CDO 15, but safety Ethan Seppala, who had five interceptions last season, picked off a pass and went 90 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown return.
Some of the Dorados’ coaches and players ran on the field in celebration during the return, drawing an illegal participation penalty. The Dorados took possession at their 45 after another flag was thrown on the CDO sideline for unsportsmanlike conduct arguing the call.
Two plays later, Cienega safety Christian Dicochea made an interception.
After Levy steamrolled to a 45-yard run, dragging a couple of defenders with him at the end, Swoger rushed for a 15-yard touchdown to give Bobcats a 21-14 lead with only 11.6 seconds left in the half.
“It obviously deflated us,” Peace said about Seppala’s touchdown being nullified. “But then we gave up 6 on the back end. That part is on us. We didn’t go into the half 14-14. We gave up a late cheap one.
“Learning experience for everybody but that’s part of the game. It’s up to the athletes to take responsibility for those kinds of things — and coaches — not just athletes, but coaches too.”
.@cdo_football coach Dustin Peace one of the best locally and in the state will use tonight’s 28-14 loss to Cienega as teaching point for his players and his staff with a game at Desert View and the Jaguars’ running attack next week. pic.twitter.com/vGrI2upGjh
The lone touchdown of the second half was Swoger’s 3-yard run with only 1:32 left in the game that followed a 41-yard run burst by Levy to the CDO 4. That possession took place after CDO turned the ball over on downs.
“We just couldn’t make the right clutch plays at the right time,” Peace said.
The Dorados are scheduled to play at Desert View next week. The Jaguars are another formidable rushing team with three running backs who have gained more than 1,000 yards in the last two seasons — Serge Gboweiah, Carlos Alvarez and Jacob Ramirez.
“Let’s get to Friday. Let’s give them another opportunity under the lights,” Peace said. “That’s what each and every moment’s going to be. We’re looking forward to the learning part of it. We’ve got to rest these bodies up. We’re pretty injury free.”
Cienega was slated to host Nogales on Friday in what was planned to be Senior Night for the Bobcats, but the Apaches were forced to cancel because a player tested positive for COVID-19. Nogales’ game with Sahuarita last night was canceled after it was announced the Apaches must be in quarantine for 14 days.
Nugent told his players after last night’s game that he will do everything in his power to schedule a game on Friday to provide his players another chance to compete.
“We’re going to try to find anyone who wants to come play us,” Nugent said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. If they’re willing to come to our place, we’d really love to have a Senior Night.
“I don’t know if I could be a kid today to go through all the emotional highs and lows that these kids have gone through the last six months … our kids never stopped. They were excited to play and they played their butts off.”
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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.