CASA GRANDE — After cruising to a 42-14 victory over the No. 23 Vista Grande Spartans on Friday night, coach Pat Nugent and the No. 24 Mica Mountain Thunderbolts gathered on the field for a quick post-game breakdown.
Congratulating the kids on their fight, tenacity and grit, he told the players they have their sights set on one goal: capturing the 4A Kino region title.
“We’re excited,” Nugent said. “We’ve got a great group of kids working their butts off. With Vista Grande, we were expecting a really tough game tonight but we played a great game.”
Weeks ago, the Bolts had a record of just 1-4 as the young squad struggled to execute, but the team has undergone a dramatic turnaround since the start of region play last month.
Now, with a record of 5-4 overall and 4-0 in the 4A Kino, the Bolts are looking to close out the season by snagging the region title they face off against No. 2 Canyon del Oro (8-1, 4-0) at home on Thursday.
Accomplishing such a goal, however, will be no easy task and Nugent knows it.
“I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve been telling them they don’t know what a playoff game looks like,” Nugent said. “They don’t know what a big-time football game looks like. These are a bunch of young kids who don’t know, so I don’t know how we’re going to handle it, but we’ve got a coaching staff that’s been there before so we’re going to try to put our kids in the right place.”
It is his hope, though, that the players will be able to take their momentum from their dominant performance Friday and carry it over to the final week of the regular season.
Mica Mountain received the ball to start the game, taking the ball all the way to the red zone but struggled to convert. Turning the ball over on downs, its defense stepped up to the plate and forced a quick three-and-out to regain possession with only a minute and a half off the clock.
Junior Joseph Powell was able to get a hand up in time to block the punt, giving Mica Mountain the ball at their own 43-yard line.
From there, the Bolts were first on the board with a 1-yard quarterback keeper from Jayden Thoreson and a good extra point attempt. With 5:33 left in the first quarter, Mica Mountain was up 7-0.
Once again, Mica Mountain’s defensive unit was dialed-in, forcing another quick turnover with just under 4:00 left in the first.
After taking over at the 20, the Bolts continued moving the chains as they marched down the field. Mica Mountain was able to extend the lead to 14-0 on a 2-yard run from sophomore Josiah Thornwell and another good extra point from Santino Stopani.
The following drive, Vista Grande fumbled on the first snap, where it was recovered by sophomore Dominik Leon at the Spartans’ 26-yard-line. On the first play of the second quarter, Thoreson was able to find junior Xavior Johnson for a 21-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead followed by another good PAT from Stopani.
Eating up around two minutes of play, Vista Grande was still not able to pick up a first down against the Bolts’ defense, resulting in a punt giving Mica Mountain possession at its own 10-yard-line.
On a drive highlighted by a 48-yard-run by sophomore Conner Hangarner, Mica Mountain was able to capitalize yet again on a 19-yard touchdown pass to junior Kason Colbert. Stopani’s PAT was once again good, stretching the lead to 28-0 with 6:49 left before the half.
Vista Grande’s following drive brought a change at quarterback, but it would still not make a difference, as Johnson was able to snag an interception at the Bolts’ 35. As Mica Mountain’s offense came back on the field, the walk to the end zone looked like a breeze as Thornwell was able to take it in for his second touchdown of the night.
With another good PAT from Stopani, it was now 35-0 with 2:21 left before the half.
Vista Grande’s following possession resulted in a turnover on downs, leaving just seconds left on the clock before the half.
Coming back out of the locker rooms, the Spartans received the ball but once again struggled to make anything happen with it. Punting the ball away, it set up Mica Mountain at the 30 with a lot of time left to play in the third quarter. Eating away a large part of the clock, the Bolts extended the lead to 42-0 with 6:24 left in the third on a -y6ard touchdown run from Hangarner and good PAT.
It wasn’t until Vista Grande’s next possession when they were finally able to erase the goose egg on the board, running in a touchdown as time expired in the third quarter. Electing to go for two, the Spartans failed to convert, making it 42-6 with a running clock in the fourth quarter.
Mica Mountain’s next possession resulted in an unsuccessful field goal attempt, giving the ball back to Vista Grande with around six minutes remaining. With just seconds left in the game, Vista Grande was able to put up a second touchdown followed by a two-point conversion to make the final score of the game 42-14.
“Every single one of those kids on offense is an underclassman, so it’s a dream,” Nugent said. “They could have folded after being 1-4, so we’re excited about where we’re at, and I can’t wait for a week. Even an old guy like me is excited about a big football game.”
While it’s going to be a tough game next week against the Dorados, the Bolts can use their game against Vista Grande as a source of confidence. CDO won at Vista Grande 56-13 last week.
“It was a grind from the beginning of the year; these kids have really worked hard and we’re young,” Nugent said. “But, we’re ready to play a championship game next week against a really good CDO team.”
When Nugent coached CDO from 2000 to 2008, Dustin Peace, the Dorados’ head coach, was his defensive coordinator during that stretch.
Peace also played for Nugent when Nugent coached at Flowing Wells from 1997 to 1999.