High School Football

Rematch: Pusch Ridge, Yuma Catholic To Meet in 3A Semifinals


When Yuma Catholic outlasted Pusch Ridge in the second week of the season in a 14-7 win at home, the Shamrocks limited the Lions’ developing spread offense under first-year coach Kent Middleton to only 212 yards.

The Lions rushed for 94 yards, which is normally a good half for senior running back Evan Lovett.

“It was a tight game; we couldn’t get any offense going,” junior running back Javier Grajeda said. “We’re a completely different team from then.”

Pusch Ridge (8-1) has not lost since that game and Yuma Catholic, the top seed in the 3A state playoffs, is 9-0 after Friday’s 43-20 win over visiting Thatcher.

Pusch Ridge linebacker Phillip Raica carries the sledgehammer leading his team on to the field. The top player on the line from the previous game gets the honor of carrying the sledgehammer (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

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The fourth-seeded Lions will play the Shamrocks in a 3A semifinal game Saturday at 6 p.m. at Scottsdale Coronado High School. Preceding that game at Coronado at 1, the other semifinal game will be No. 2 Snowflake (8-1) against No. 3 American Leadership Academy – Gilbert North (8-1).

Pusch Ridge has shown balance with its offense with the two-quarterback system of Hayden Hallett and Ryan Fontaine and the effective running game of Lovett and Grajeda.

Entering Friday night’s 35-6 win over visiting Wickenburg in the 3A state quarterfinal game, the running back tandem combined for 1,729 yards on 172 carries — an average of 10.1 yards a carry — with 23 touchdowns.

Pusch Ridge running back Javier Grajeda (21) carried the ball 14 times for 77 yards in the fourth quarter (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The running styles of Lovett and Grajeda contrast, which is all the more interesting because their approach does not match their physical size.

Lovett is 6-1 and 210 pounds and gets most of his yards running to the perimeter off tackle. Grajeda is 5-7 and 175 pounds and he gets a bulk of his yards running up the gut, busting through tackles and bowling opponents over.

“Javy is just a little workhorse,” Middleton said of his junior running back, who finished with 112 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns in the win over Wickenburg.

“He doesn’t run small. He runs big. He’s tough to bring down. Pound for pound, he is the strongest kid on our football team.”

Grajeda took on the bulk of the carries in the fourth quarter with Lovett nursing a minor ankle injury. He had 14 of his carries in that quarter, totaling 77 yards to keep Wickenburg at bay. He appeared to be a stronger runner as the game went on.

Pusch Ridge QB Hayden Hallett completed 9 of his first 10 passes in the first half (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“It all starts in the weight room, getting strong and coach (Middleton) conditions the crap out of us in practice,” Grajeda said. “We come out here prepared and it shows on the field.”

In the loss at Yuma Catholic, Lovett and Grajeda combined for a season-low 80 yards on 18 carries.

Lovett’s streak of five games of at least 100 yards rushing was snapped Friday as he finished with 59 yards on 12 carries. He still had two touchdowns on an 11-yard run and 80-yard kickoff return to increase his career total to 50 touchdowns.

Hallett had an impressive showing against Yuma Catholic completing 5 of 7 passes for 55 yards. He looked as effective in the first half against Wickenburg, completing 9 of 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.

Shifty runner Bryson Alder of Wickenburg was tough to bring down (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

He finished completing 12 of 16 passes for 129 yards and also rushed for 45 yards on eight carries.

“My line did a great job tonight; they made it easy,” said Hallett, who was stopped behind the line of scrimmage only once. “Javier and Evan were running great, so it opened up a lot of receivers who were catching everything. So it made my life easier.”

Pusch Ridge’s defense, which had seven three-and-outs in a win over Gilbert Christian last week, forced a punt after only three plays in Wickenburg’s first possession.

The Wranglers (5-3) came to life in the next drive behind the playmaking of quarterback Calogero Dicamillo and running back Bryson Alder. They connected on two passes for 73 yards in that possession, including a 61-yard play that took the ball to the Pusch Ridge 4. Three players later, Dicamillo darted into the end zone with a 7-yard run to open a 6-0 lead with 3:16 left in the first quarter.

Sophomore defensive end Will Way drops Wickenburg’s quarterback for a sack (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“Those are two players anybody in the state would love to have,” Middleton said of Dicamillo and Alder. “Very athletic kids. You can be in the right position as a defender and it still didn’t make a difference.”

Dicamillo was 6 of 12 for 126 yards with an interception snared by Kannon Jewell. Alder, who played for quarterback in two possessions in the second half, rushed 21 times for 79 yards and completed 4 of 10 passes for 44 yards with an interception caught by Gabriel Witt.

Wickenburg also had possessions end on a failed fake punt and fumble recoveries by Christian Cromwell and Tyler Mustain.

After falling behind 6-0 — which was the first time Pusch Ridge has trailed since the Yuma Catholic game Oct. 9 — the Lions responded with a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive capped by Grajeda’s 1-yard run with 25.9 seconds left in the first quarter to take a 7-6 lead.

Following the failed fake punt by Wickenburg, Pusch Ridge rode the performance of Hallett in the next drive for another score. Hallett was 5-of-5 for 42 yards in the possession, which culminated on Lovett’s 11-yard touchdown run with 6:06 left in the second quarter.

Cromwell recovered the fumble at the Wickenburg 24-yard line on the Wranglers’ first play of its next possession. Two plays later, Hallett connected with Jayden Rittenbach on a 21-yard touchdown pass to put Pusch Ridge ahead 21-6 with 5:26 remaining in the half.

Rittenbach finished with seven receptions for 102 yards, his third game eclipsing 100 yards in his first varsity season.

“That’s the first time we got punched in the mouth early in the game and we responded really well,” Middleton said.

Pusch Ridge’s defensive front seven, led by sophomore defensive end Will Way, punched back against the Wranglers. In Wickenburg’s last two possessions of the half, Way combined with Witt on a sack of Dicamillo for a loss of 16 yards and Way made a sack on his own for a loss of 8 yards.

Way, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds despite his youth, returned strong after missing the second half of last week’s play-in win over Gilbert Christian because of a high ankle sprain.

“Overall, I just wanted to do everything I can for my team, especially for the D-line because I thought I owed them it after being out last week,” Way said. “Really, I was playing with a chip on my shoulder. … (Wickenburg is) in the playoffs for a reason. They’re a great team.

“I’m just happy I did well for my line.”

Lovett, the son of former Arizona receiver Lamar Lovett, took the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown to increase the lead to 28-6. It is the fifth kickoff return for a touchdown in his career.

Wickenburg’s possessions in the second half ended twice on a loss of downs (including at the Pusch Ridge 10 with 10:46 left in the fourth quarter still trailing 28-6) and on two interceptions.

The Lions had possession of the ball for 10:37 of the 12 minutes of the fourth quarter largely because of Grajeda’s ability to continue manufacturing first-down runs. He capped the scoring with a 3-yard run with 4:20 left.

“It’s great to see that out of Javy because we needed him and he came in and did a great job,” Middleton said. “Our offensive line did a great job opening up holes for him to get through. When there wasn’t a big gigantic hole, he was he strong enough to break tackles.

“I love to see kids like that do so well. He deserves it. He’s worked hard all year. He’s been there for us all year.”


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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.

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