High School Football

Pusch Ridge Pushes Forward to 3A State Playoffs With Victory Over Gilbert Christian

A tradition after a Pusch Ridge Christian Academy victory involving assistant coach Lamar Lovett was born about the same time as his son Evan 18 years ago.

Lovett, a former Arizona receiver, engages in a dance-off with the players while they surround him on the field forming a large circle.

After watching Evan gain 306 yards on 12 carries with four touchdowns in a 49-7 win Friday night over Gilbert Christian in a 3A state playoff play-in game, the elder Lovett appeared as if he, well, was really loving it breakdancing to the roar of the Lions.

Lamar, who has been on Pusch Ridge’s staff since 2000, when the school changed from Palo Verde Christian, challenged the Lions in the lean early years.

“We were something like 0-18 and I told the players, ‘Listen, if you pull out a victory …’ and I was thinking what I should tell them … ‘I’ll breakdance!'” Lamar said. “They told me, ‘You don’t know how to do that.’ I told them, ‘You’ll never find out unless you win this game.'”

Pusch Ridge pulled off the upset that week and Lamar has danced since — when he is not injured. A torn Achilles’ kept him from breakdancing early this season. His brother Lamont, also a former Arizona player who is the Wildcats’ radio analyst, grew up with some dance moves as well.

“Lamont was a dancer too; he’s more of a popper and I was the power-move breakdance little guy,” Lamar said.

Evan’s career-record rushing night in Pusch Ridge’s win put a little extra spin on his dad’s moves. The Lions now await their seed and placement in the 3A state bracket on Saturday morning when the Arizona Interscholastic Association holds its bracket show from 8-11 a.m.

“I think it’s awesome because it’s another platform to shine our light,” Evan said of the the Lions’ 7-1 season to date.

Pusch Ridge will learn its seed and its opponent in the 3A state playoffs Saturday morning (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Pusch Ridge, ranked No. 5 in 3A under first-year coach Kent Middleton, is in a good position to host a game in the quarterfinals next Friday inasmuch as two schools ranked ahead of the Lions — No. 3 Lakeside Blue Ridge and No. 4 Chandler Valley Christian were upset in their play-in games Friday night.

Blue Ridge lost to Wickenburg 12-7 and Valley Christian came up short 21-20 against Eagar Round Valley.

If the Lions move up to a No. 3 seed, they would host the No. 6 team. That could very well could be Round Valley, coached by former Arizona linebacker Marcus Bell.

“We’ll see where we fall. We played well tonight in all three phases of the game,” Middleton said. “It was good to get a test early in this game because our games of late have been one-sided.”

After wins in the previous three weeks by scores of 48-13 against San Tan Valley, 70-8 against American Leadership Academy – Ironwood and 56-0 against Florence, Pusch Ridge had a lead of only 14-7 late in the first half against Gilbert Christian.

Touchdown runs of 30 and 65 yards by Evan Lovett put the Lions ahead 14-0 lead with 11:48 remaining in the second quarter.

Middleton’s defense, stifling all night long allowing only 157 yards of total offense, did not allow Gilbert Christian a first down until Matthew Hershey connected with Marcus McWilliams for a 40-yard pass with 11:40 remaining in the first half.

A personal foul call aided the Knights in that drive. They eventually scored their only touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run by Brody Curtner with a 1-yard run with 9:25 showing until halftime.

A 38-yard touchdown burst by Lovett with 1:21 left in the second quarter enabled Pusch Ridge to take a 21-7 lead into halftime.

Lovett has shown a distinct change in his running style this year. The finesse is gone. The attempt to sidestep tackles no longer happens. Lovett is running more direct and through tackles with purpose.

“Honestly, I give credit to all of the coaches, especially (assistant) coach (Bob) Ingram — and God — because we wouldn’t be playing, the Lord did this for us,” Lovett said of his season, tallying a remarkable 1,294 yards on 82 carries with 15 touchdowns in only eight games.

“But Coach Ingram (a veteran coach of almost 25 years in Southern Arizona), he’s getting on me like he’s going to put his foot up my butt if I keep dancing. It’s just bully-ball now, that’s what we’re doing.”

Bully-ball certainly applies to Pusch Ridge’s defense.

After the score by Curtner, Gilbert Christian would achieve only one more first down until its last possession of the game. Pusch Ridge’s defense, led by sophomore linebacker Tyler Mustain, the leading tackler in Southern Arizona entering this week with 59, forced the Knights into seven three-and-outs in the game.

Gilbert Christian’s first four possessions of the second half — three three-and-outs and an interception by Pusch Ridge safety Ryan Fontaine.

Pusch Ridge is persevering through injuries. Mustain played with his left hand heavily wrapped after breaking two bones last week in practice. Fellow sophomore standout defensive end Will Way left the game for good in the first half with a high ankle sprain. His status for the playoffs is uncertain.

“Our defense has been solid all year and our offense is incredibly explosive,” Mustain said. “Our O-line can typically block good and win the line in the trenches.

“The only reason I can play so good is because of our line. They just soak up all the blocks. It makes it so much easier on me and my other backer, Ethan Jones. It’s just incredible that no offensive lineman can come and block us because they are too focused on our monsters in the trenches.”

The defensive line is Pusch Ridge’s most experienced unit with its two-deep including six of the team’s 11 seniors.

Pusch Ridge coach Kent Middleton and his staff have the Lions 7-1 and a likely high seed in the 3A state playoffs in his first year as head coach (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Lovett opened the second half with an 80-yard touchdown run to increase Pusch Ridge’s lead to 28-7.

His 39-yard scoring run on the next possession was called back because of a holding penalty. Pusch Ridge still managed to score after Fontaine’s 11-yard quarterback scramble resulted in a fumble at the 1 and senior receiver Kannon Jewell fell on it in the end zone for the touchdown with 7:31 left in the third quarter.

A 29-yard pass from Hayden Hallett, who alternates at quarterback with Fontaine, to Jordan Rittenbach and a 37-yard burst by Lovett set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Hallett with 11:16 left in the game to put Pusch Ridge ahead 42-7.

Fontaine’s interception followed. Fontaine also capped the postgame dance-off with a standing flip.

The Lions scored their last touchdown after a sweep by sophomore Bryce Jewell went 24 yards to the Gilbert Christian 4. Javier Grajeda scored on a 2-yard run two plays later with 9:07 remaining.

“We’re experienced up front with our defense, our down guys are really experienced, so they’re tough to get moving on for other team’s offense,” Middleton said. “That creates a good situation for us on the field for everybody else, potentially, because it’s hard to run against them.

“When you can’t run against a team, you become too one-dimensional and that’s fun for the defense.”

Gilbert Christian mustered only 90 yards rushing on 35 carries. The Lions did not allow a completed pass in five attempts in the second half and limited the Knights to 67 yards passing.


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.

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