Fontaine-to-Mustain Train: Pusch Ridge chugs to dramatic comeback win over Benson

Pusch Ridge assistant Steve Hancock addresses the Lions after their win (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

BENSON — Pusch Ridge was derailing.

An errant punt snap allowed Benson to take over at the Pusch Ridge 25, and the Bobcats — who returned everyone from last year’s team that made it to the 2A state title game — subsequently scored on a 3-yard Tristan Martinez run about halfway through the second quarter to take a two-touchdown lead.

“I looked at my boys and said, ‘Second half, we have to come get it,'” Pusch Ridge junior athlete Bryce Jewell said. “We had to show what’s up.”

The Lions actually got on the Fontaine-to-Mustain Train before halftime and gathered some steam.

A 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fontaine to Bubba Mustain — who snared the pass with one hand — with 3:29 left in the half got the Lions on track. A 54-yard scoring connection between the two on a fourth-down play with 2:35 remaining in the game helped Pusch Ridge railroad the Bobcats in the second half.

Pusch Ridge, in its second year with Kent Middleton as coach, persevered through two weeks of COVID-19 protocols and team-related matters to overcome Benson for a 34-21 season-opening victory.

“That’s the most courageous victory I’ve ever been a part of,” said Middleton, whose team finished 8-2 last season after advancing to the 3A state semifinals. “If you know what we’ve been through the last two weeks and stuff … these kids are just tremendous character kids.”

Four starters were not in Benson, including senior quarterback Hayden Hallett, junior tight end/defensive end Will Way and senior receiver Josh Tofel, for various reasons including COVID-19 protocol. Andrew Way, whose son projects to be a Division I recruit, stated in a text message that Will was under COVID-19 quarantine.

The Lions showed the ill effects of having an unsettled roster from the start when quarterback Brok Determan, son of Benson coach Chris Determan, engineered the Bobcats to a touchdown in the opening drive of the game.

Brok Determan completed two passes to Angel Rigney in that drive, including a 27-yard strike in which Rigney dove for the ball, and Devin Bowling capped the eight-play possession with a 2-yard scoring run with 8:05 left in the first quarter.

“They fought hard, so did we,” Brok Determan said. “Just a couple big plays … can’t really do much about those.”

On Pusch Ridge’s fourth play of he ensuing possession, Fontaine found an open Cody Rafacz over the middle and Rafacz zig-zagged for about 40 yards to cap a 66-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7 with 6:21 remaining in the first quarter.

Benson went exclusively to the run in the next possession, which included 10 plays, culminating on Devin Bowling’s 18-yard score with 11:21 left in the second quarter. That play came after Rigney’s 2-yard run that gave Benson a first down on a fourth-and-1 situation at the Pusch Ridge 20.

Pusch Ridge’s botched snap of a punt occurred on the next possession and Martinez’s subsequent touchdown run gave Benson a 21-7 lead with 6:12 left in the half.

“We were down but we were never out,” Fontaine said. “We kept close to each other. We knew we were going to come back to win it.”

Fontaine rushed a couple of times for 17 yards and he completed all three of his attempts on the next possession — including Mustain’s one-handed grab for the touchdown — to cut Benson’s lead to 21-14 with 3:29 left in the half.

Mustain, a sophomore who is the younger brother of junior linebacker Tyler Mustain, another Division I prospect, finished with six receptions for 108 yards with two touchdowns in his first extensive varsity game.

He was promoted from the junior varsity last season to practice with the varsity during its playoff run.

“It was awesome to be able to contribute like that to the team, just to go out there and make plays,” said Bubba Mustain, who despite his young age conducts himself like a veteran by staying even keel. “It’s all a team effort. It doesn’t matter what I do as long as we get the win.”

The offenses for both teams stalled to start the second half with the first five possessions resulting in a loss of downs or punts.

Benson blew a scoring opportunity when Bowling’s 61-yard run to the end zone was nullified by a holding penalty and the Bobcats eventually had to punt.

Bowling, whose leg injury kept him out of the second half of last season’s 2A state championship game loss to Eloy Santa Cruz, finished with 92 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns.

Fontaine finally got Pusch Ridge’s offense on track when the Lions started a possession at their 44 with 6:56 left in the game.

He connected twice to Bubba Mustain for 17 yards and his 33-yard completion to Jewell enabled Pusch Ridge to get the ball to the 1. Fontaine’s sneak into the end zone cut the lead to 21-20 with 5:02 left. In what could have been a back-breaker, the snap for the extra-point went awry and the Lions still trailed.

Benson fumbled the ball away on the following possession, however, and Pusch Ridge took over at its 47.

After a holding penalty forced the Lions to their 31, Fontaine completed passes to Rafacz and Bubba Mustain before another attempt was nearly intercepted.

Pusch Ridge was faced with a fourth-and-11 situation at its 46 and Middleton went for it.

Fontaine saw that Bubba Mustain separated himself from his defender near the right sideline and completed the 54-yard scoring play with 2:35 left to put Pusch Ridge ahead for the first time 27-21. Benson’s coaching staff tried to alert the referees for a timeout before the snap but the officials did not hear them.

“Just a little scrappy, Doug Flutie-like performance,” Middleton said of Fontaine’s game in which he completed 14 of 17 attempts for 250 yards with three touchdowns. “He probably doesn’t know who Doug Flutie is, but just a scrappy, battling, courageous performance.

“We named him captain of our team this past week and you saw the reasons why right there, because his heart and soul is in this team.”

Pusch Ridge celebrates its hard-fought comeback win (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Jewell closed the door on Benson with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:58 remaining. He then recovered an onside kick that caught the Bobcats off-guard.

“It’s incredible, I don’t know what to say, honestly,” said Jewell of Pusch Ridge’s rally in the fourth quarter. “We were down in the second half. It was the way we pushed through. Adversity makes the team and I feel like we did a good job as a whole of pushing through no matter what came at us.”

Pusch Ridge next plays Walden Grove on Friday at Marana Mountain View High School. The Lions are installing new turf and a track at their field and the project is not quite ready. The game was scheduled after both teams scrambled to find an opponent following Palo Verde’s decision last week to not field a varsity team because of its roster size and lack of experience.

Benson is scheduled to host Santa Rita on Friday.


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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