Murderers’ Row to high school football teams in the 3A South this season means having to play the type of gauntlet Pusch Ridge faces in the next three weeks.
Sabino, Safford and Thatcher are upcoming region games for the 11th-ranked Lions, starting Friday when they travel to Sabino to face the 13th-ranked Sabercats (4-2, 0-1 in the 3A South) at 7 p.m.
Pusch Ridge (5-1, 1-0) does not have to be concerned about looking ahead the next three games with Sabino, No. 7 Safford (5-1, 1-0) and No. 9 Thatcher (5-1, 2-0). The Sabercats, Bulldogs and Eagles are a combined 14-4.
Sabino’s region loss was at Thatcher, a 45-28 setback on Sept. 17 after the game was still in doubt early in the fourth quarter.
PUSCH RIDGE VS. SABINO STORYLINES
— Pusch Ridge is 13-3 in its second season under Kent Middleton, the former Arizona IceCats star and CDO graduate who served as an assistant coach in Southern Arizona for nearly three decades before finally getting his first head coaching assignment last year.
— Sabino’s Ryan McBrayer, a former Sabercat linebacker/tight end who played under Jay Campos in their runs to the state title games in 2005 and 2006, is 33-12 in his fifth season leading his alma mater. In the 2006 state semifinal win over Scottsdale Chaparral, McBrayer recovered a fumble and had an interception.
— Pusch Ridge and Sabino have two of the most productive passing offenses in the state behind the work of a couple of seasoned offensive coordinators — Brent Bartz with the Lions and Sly Lewis with the Sabercats. Middleton and McBrayer serve as defensive coordinators for their programs, so they have spent many hours this week thinking of ways to contain the other offense.
— Pusch Ridge QB Ryan Fontaine, a senior, and Sabino QB Cameron Hackworth, a sophomore, have proven through the first of the season to be very productive as dual threats out of the backfield. Fontaine has completed 73 of 104 pass attempts for 1,093 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception. He has also rushed for 271 yards on 67 carries with six touchdowns. Hackworth leads Southern Arizona with 1,313 passing yards on 81 of 110 completions with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has rushed for 449 yards on 44 carries with five touchdowns.
— Fontaine and Hackworth have spread the ball to many of their receivers. Four of the Lions have at least 10 receptions led by sophomore Bubba Mustain, who has 31 receptions for 480 yards with six touchdowns. Hackworth has thrown the ball to 10 different receivers this season with senior Isiah Aguirre being the leader with 21 catches for 412 yards and six touchdowns.
— Sabino seniors Kenneth Blackman (210 yards on 37 carries) and Levi Miranda (176 yards on 20 rushes) have combined to rush for 318 yards. Pusch Ridge senior Javier Grajeda has gained 566 yards on 111 carries.
— Defensively, Pusch Ridge has standout linebacker Tyler Mustain, a junior who is a Division I prospect at 68 tackles including three for lost yardage. Sabino senior linebacker Marius Lester leads the Sabercats with 50 tackles.
PUSCH RIDGE COACHING STAFF
- Head coach: Kent Middleton
- Offensive coordinator: Brent Bartz
- Defensive coordinator: Middleton
- Associate head coach/special teams: Calvin Knox
- Strength and conditioning/offensive line: Tommy Steele
- Outside linebackers/tight ends: Doyle Butler
- Defensive line: Anthony Coronado
- Secondary: Jeff Drescher
- Quarterbacks/defensive secondary: Gary Minor
- Linebackers: Steve Hancock
- Inside linebackers: Chuck Mustain
SABINO COACHING STAFF
- Head coach: Ryan McBrayer
- Defensive coordinator: Ryan McBrayer
- Offensive coordinator: Sly Lewis
- Quarterbacks: Collin McBrayer
- Running backs: Vern Cooke
- Defensive tackles: Jon Jolls
- Offensive line: Bahren Perez and Mike Brown
- Secondary: Jason Welsh
- Linebackers: Ryan Burnison
- Quarterbacks/defensive ends: Eli Trainer
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
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