Senior running back Malachi Eafon and hard-nosed defense helped Cholla squeak out a 14-11 victory against Sahuarita on Friday night
“He’s the heart of the squad,” said Cholla head coach Virgil Henderson. “When Malachi is down and not upbeat, the team is the same way, but when he’s on fire, he gets them all going, and the team just follows him.”
After Eafon’s 23-yard rushing touchdown put Cholla up 7-0 midway through the first quarter, the Sahuarita defense held the Chargers scoreless until halftime.
A safety forced by the Mustangs on a deep punt return and 33-yard field goal from freshman Raphael Villa, had the Chargers clinging to a 7-5 lead in what was turning out to be a defensive battle.
“We just went on defense and adjusted our alignments and assignments,” Henderson said. “This week was very tough because we had a lot of starters out, so we had to get a lot of our babies and a lot of our backups in there, and they’re still a little bit raw, so we just had to go in there and calm down and just adjust a little bit on offense and defense.”
A sack from Cholla senior Michael Apalategui, forced Sahuarita to punt from its 40-yard line on the first possession of the third quarter, continuing the defensive tone into the second half.
After both teams traded empty possessions on offense — a punt from Cholla and a turnover on downs from Sahuarita — a 12-yard rushing touchdown from Eafon, the nephew of former Arizona basketball and football player Kelvin Eafon, who was the captain on the 12-1 1998 team, extended the chargers’ lead to 14-5 at the end of the third quarter.
“As soon as the play went off, my line just blocked, and it was just wide open, and I walked through untouched, and it was that easy,” Eafon said.
Around the midway point of the fourth quarter, things got interesting.
Sahuarita recovered a fumble on the Cholla 30-yard line before Sahuarita sophomore quarterback Raul Velez connected with senior wide receiver James Miner for a 30-yard touchdown reception with 5:49 remaining in the game. After a missed PAT, the Mustangs narrowed the deficit to 14-11.
Cholla junior Ciarin Williams ran the ensuing kickoff back to the Sahuarita 30-yard line, but a fumble recovery by Sahuarita on the following possession kept hope alive for the Mustangs.
But it was Cholla’s defense that would come up strong again, forcing a turnover on downs, and the Chargers held on for the win.
“I think it was Apalategui (Michael Apalategui) that came on the edge,” Henderson said. ” He was banged up all second half, as were a lot of kids. He made a solid play, and that was a joy.”
After the game, Henderson quickly credited Sahuarita and his team for picking up its first win of the season, which matches Cholla’s 2021 season win total only two games into this season.
“They’re a tough team,” he said. “The film that we watched on them last week against Buena is totally different than the team that came out today, and I give much respect to that team and to my kids who clawed and fought to the end. It’s hard to win over at Cholla, but we just got to get used to winning and know what it’s like.”
As for Eafon, he looks forward to building on what the Chargers started on Friday night.
“The ride back is going to be fun. Everyone is so excited, as you can see over there,” he said. “Today, we played really physical. We proved we could do that, so we’ve got to keep doing that and doing our jobs and keep this momentum through the rest of the season.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He is currently attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.