SAN TAN VALLEY – It was a long ride back to Vail on Thursday night for the Mica Mountain Thunderbolts Football squad after a 40-0 loss to the Poston Butte Broncos. While the score looks ugly, it’s not necessarily a true reflection of the level of effort on the field for the Bolts; that’s why coach Pat Nugent gathered his players on the field afterwards for an uplifting speech about their performance on the night.
“I thought our defense played hard all night,” Nugent said. “We gave up only two long passes in the first. It was only 15-0 at half. They just were grinding us. … We’re banged up up front. We’re playing with a small group but our kids never quit tonight, and that was the thing we were proud about.”
One of Mica Mountain’s significant injuries is the loss of senior defensive end Kaspen Colbert, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener at Ironwood Ridge.
Going into the season, Nugent knew it was going to be a challenging season. Facing a number of storied teams with both playoff history and state championship experience, the Bolts were going to be put to the test. With the program still in its infancy stages as Mica Mountain prepares to graduate its first set of seniors, it’s all part of Nugent’s plan to continue trusting in the process of building a program from scratch.
One of the programs with state championship experience is Poston Butte, who faced off against Casa Grande last year for the title.
“Obviously we’re so young, and we knew, and I want our kids to play high-level football,” Nugent said. “We’re going to get our program better by playing great teams like Poston Butte and [last week’s opponent] Bradshaw Mountain so we’ve got to learn.”
It was a slow start for both teams offensively in the first quarter, but things looked a bit more rocky for the Bolts as they tried to get things rolling. A high snap caused a fumble on the fifth play of the game, almost a precursor of what was to come for the Bolts on the night.
While Poston Butte’s offense couldn’t do anything on their opening drive either, Mica Mountain’s next drive resulted in a blocked punt attempt. From there, Poston Butte was able to drive down the field, opening up the second quarter with the first points of the game on a two-yard touchdown run from Gaven Thrower.
After lining up for a kick, Poston Butte ultimately ended up going for two and converting, with long snapper Josh Furman finding Reginald Auelua in the end zone. With 11:32 left in the second quarter, the Broncos had been able to establish dominance with an 8-0 lead.
Another quick three and out on the following possession led the Bolts to punt once again, but they quickly got the ball back after a fumble by the Broncos at the 13-yard-line. It looked as if it was going to be a quick three and out once again, but a roughing the kicker call against the Broncos helped to extend the drive.
It seemed as if the Bolts were going to get some momentum behind them leading into the half with the penalty, but they unfortunately weren’t able to do anything with the gift and ended up turning the ball over on downs with 1:41 left in the second quarter.
Taking over at their own 42-yard-line, senior quarterback Max Larson was able to throw an absolute dart to Connor Lopez for a 58-yard touchdown. Electing to kick the extra point this time, the Broncos took a 15-0 lead with 1:32 left before the half.
Trying to make the most out of the remaining time before heading into the locker room, Bolts’ sophomore quarterback Jayden Thoreson tried airing it out a few times, but couldn’t connect. Mica Mountain ended up running out the remainder of the clock and heading into the half with hopes to regroup.
After winning the toss and electing to defer, Poston Butte had the ball first coming out of the half, along with all of the momentum they had going into it. Continuously moving the chains, the Broncos were able to punch in another touchdown, this one coming on a three-yard run by senior Aidan Contreras. The extra point attempt was blocked, though, by sophomore Jaysen Criswell, making it 21-0 with 8:23 remaining.
Mica Mountain’s following possession started off with some hope, but it was quickly squandered following a run for no gain, an incomplete pass that was bobbled and dropped and a quarterback sack for a loss of three yards.
On Poston Butte’s following drive, the Bronco’s once again struggled with ball security in the red zone, this time fumbling it away at the 15-yard-line. Criswell had another huge defensive play for the Bolts, coming up with the fumble recovery with 3:27 remaining in the third. While they weren’t out of the game yet, pressure was starting to mount with time ticking away.
Trying to pass the ball on a third and six, Thoreson was absolutely hammered on a hit, sending him over to the trainers table and forcing the Bolts to punt the ball. The Broncos had hit their stride, though, and were able to come up with a blocked punt to take over at the Mica Mountain 42.
Opening up the fourth quarter with a bang, Thrower had another touchdown run, this time from six yards out to make it 27-0 with 11:55 left to play.
At this point, the win was nearly solidified, but an unfortunate fumble followed by two interceptions on the following three possessions would officially put an end to their hopes of coming back. Fighting until the end, Mica Mountain left everything it had on the field that night knowing how much it can take away from this game.
“Coming up [towards Phoenix], they were playing a big-time football team, a first senior-year varsity team,” Nugent said. “Our kids played hard and that’s the thing we’ve got to take out of this.”
Thoreson finished the night completing 10 of his 17 pass attempts for 82 yards, while the Bolts were only able to pick up 58 total yards on the ground. They also had two fumbles, both caused by high snaps at the line of scrimmage.
Now sitting at 1-2 on the season, the Bolts will prepare to take on Catalina Foothills next week at home. Nugent gave his players the weekend off from practice to rest their bodies, told them to watch their own film and spend time with their families and friends. He knows it’s going to be critical in getting them mentally prepared for the Falcons on Friday.
“We’re a little banged up right now. We aren’t playing with a full group of kids,” Nugent said. “It’s showing a little bit especially in the third and fourth quarter. So, we’re going to try to keep getting better every day and know that we’ve got a local team coming in for Homecoming next week. Take what we did wrong tonight and play the next game.”