In a battle of two rebuilding inner-city neighborhood programs, Santa Rita got the better of visiting Catalina and won in convincing fashion, 40-8, on Friday night, despite finishing the game with only 11 players in uniform.
For Santa Rita and Catalina, the 2021 season — or recent history — has not gone as smoothly as either would have hoped starting with those hot, muggy, August practices to start the season.
Both schools came into Friday’s game without a win on the field (although Catalina does have a win on its record, a forfeit victory against Miami earlier in the season). This cool October Friday night gave the opportunity for the two rebuilding programs to try once again to begin an uphill climb to respectability.
Santa Rita, which dressed 12 players Friday night, and finished the game with 11 after an injury, maintained control for the entirety of the game.
Legendary head coach Tom Joseph, who coming into this game was the winningest active coach in Southern Arizona with 170 wins, was hired by Santa Rita after Richard Sanchez departed to take the job at Tucson High.
“It’s great for our young men … to see the hard work pay off,” Joseph said after the win over Catalina. “We only finished with 11 players, but that is all you need.”
Santa Rita had to cancel a game at Benson in Week 2 because of a lack of healthy players — a constant problem afflicting the inner-city neighborhood programs including Catalina, Cholla and Palo Verde.
Cholla was forced to cancel its game at home against Buena on Friday because it did not have enough players to compete.
Palo Verde canceled its varsity season at the outset and went to only a junior varsity slate because less than 20 players showed up to practice, only four of them juniors and seniors.
Santa Rita, at a constant disadvantage because of its lack of personnel, has been shut out three times this season.
The Eagles’ offense ran through two players all night long — Tyrese Linebarger and Marreil Styles.
Linebarger, whose brother, Tyrell, plays quarterback for the Eagles, finished with five touchdowns.
Styles had a touchdown and converted a pair of two-point conversions, one of which was an impressive one-handed snag in the end zone.
Joseph said that the Linebarger brothers, along with the rest of his team, have limited playing experience, and some have only been playing for two years.
Last year’s Santa Rita team played only two games due to COVID-19 protocol, so the Eagles are lacking in game experience dating to 2019. Joseph’s team snapped a 10-game losing streak dating to that season with the win over Catalina, which is trying to build under first-year coach Greg McKinstry.
Joseph stressed the learning curve his team is facing after the much-needed win.
“We’re learning,” he said. “(The Linebergers have) never played before … 90 percent of those kids have never had a year of football.”
Joseph, when talking about Tyrese Linebarger’s potential, was very optimistic and said he could have scored few more times.
“He can just out-run people and get straight to the corner,” Joseph said.
Tyrese Linebarger was quick to mention what a win like this means to him and his teammates.
“It means a lot to us,” he said. “We don’t have anything like this to win at all and bring confidence, but when we come together we can have that confidence and bring it together as a team. (We can) put it together as a win.”
Catalina managed to score late in the fourth quarter on an impressive run by Angel Garcia, who then ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 34-8.
While his team might be a bit smaller in roster size than most teams, Joseph was still adamant about what a team truly needs.
It isn’t strength in numbers.
“We need 11 players on the field, and you can win football games but everybody has to do the correct thing,” said Joseph, who knows what it takes to win, having a state title to his credit in 2002 at Mesa Mountain View.
“There are life lessons in this too,” Joseph continued. “Everyone has to take care of their responsibility. We’ve been working all year to try and get this accomplished so I am happy for them (the players), I am happy for the school. It is a long time coming.”
The victory was Joseph’s first as a head coach since 2013 when he was with Tempe Corona del Sol.
His head coaching record in his 24th season is 171-94 with four state championship game appearances (three with Mesa Mountain View and one with Superior).
Santa Rita (1-5 overall and 1-0 in the 2A Rillito) next hosts Sequoia Pathway Academy (5-3, 2-1) on Friday at 7 p.m.
Catalina (1-7, 0-3) will host Goodyear’s Trivium Prep (3-4) in a non-region game Friday at 7 p.m.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Harrison Moreno is a southern Arizona native who has watched Wildcat athletics since he was young kid. He recently is a graduate of The University of Arizona’s School of Journalism, with a focus in broadcast and audio journalism.