Arizona legend Byron Evans’ homecoming to Tucson results in victory

Byron Evans (far left) standing with fellow former Arizona Wildcats (left to right) Julius Holt, Marsharne Graves (the offensive line coach at South Mountain, Jerry Beasley and Reggie Gaddis (Holt photo)

South Mountain head coach and former Arizona Wildcat Byron Evans is used to having a lot of success on the football field in Tucson.

He can add Friday night’s 26-20 victory over Tucson High in the shadow of Arizona Stadium — where he became an All-American linebacker and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1986 — to the list of his football accomplishments in this town. 

Evans and the Phoenix South Mountain Jaguars made the trip to Tucson to take on the Tucson Badgers and their first-year head coach Richard Sanchez, who started coaching at Sunnyside when Evans was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles’ famed “Gang Green” defense in the early 1990s.

Evans took over the job at his Alma Mater South Mountain High School last year. 

Sanchez, No. 2 among the active leader in wins among Southern Arizona high school football coaches at 161 (trailing the 170 won by Santa Rita’s Tom Joseph), was tasked with taking over the Badger Football program after Justin Argraves left to take the Cienega head coaching vacancy. 

Evans was a standout linebacker under Larry Smith at Arizona from 1983-1986. He ia second in Arizona history in tackles with 552, second only to Ricky Hunley.

After his time at Arizona, Evans was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles 1987 in the fourth round and manned the middle linebacker spot in the City of Brotherly Love for eight years, playing along with the likes of the great Reggie White, where they were both a part of the legendary “46 Defense” called by coordinator Buddy Ryan.

Needless to say, he knows a little about defense.

That was on full display in the first half, limiting the Tucson offense to just more than 100 yards through the first two quarters of play.

South Mountain came out aggressive from the coin toss, forcing a quick Badger punt followed by a long touchdown drive, pounding the Tucson defense with running back Billy Watson and quarterback Baily Watson

A failed fake punt attempt deep in Jaguars territory however gave Tucson a golden opportunity, setting the Badgers up at the 1-yard-line. After a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Devin Neuman, the Badgers were right back in the game with 5:39 remaining in the half. 

A bit of confusion to the end of the half prevented Tucson from adding on more points, and the score 7-6 Tucson.

The second half produced much more excitement for those who are more enamored with offensive football. 

South Mountain received the second half kickoff, and like their first drive of the game, marched right down the field and put the ball in the end zone. Evans said after the game the key to the success on these opening drives to start the halves was all about how the Jaguars “believe in each other.”

From there, it was a back-and-forth battle between the offenses of both teams. 

Each offense seemed to find more of a rhythm in the second half, and the running of both quarterbacks, Neuman for Tucson and Watson for South Mountain, was instrumental in both offenses finding some more success.

The first passing touchdown came near the end of the third quarter, when Watson found Isaiah Hubbart for a 13-yard touchdown pass to make it 18-13 in favor of South Mountain.

After a defensive stop on an ensuing Tucson drive, which ended in an interception in the endzone by Desean Thomas of South Mountain, his second of the game, South Mountain capped off the night with a 57-yard-run by Jaylen Hickaby to ice the game 26-13. 

Tucson would get a late-game touchdown to bring it within 6, but failed to get the ball back on the onside kickoff. South Mountain was able to kneel out the clock.

“Everybody fought, everybody played well, and we are just happy for the victory,” Evans said after the game.

Tucson High (0-3) is scheduled to play at Rincon/University High School next Friday, while South Mountain (2-1) will take on Phoenix Sunnyslope.

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