High School Football

Marana comes back to stun Sunnyside 36-35 in a last-minute thriller

Marana head coach Phillip Steward talks to his team after the Tigers came back to beat Sunnyside on Friday night after being down 28-7 at halftime. (All Sports Tucson)

Junior quarterback Elijah Joplin dove into the end zone on a last-second 2-point conversion run as Marana erased a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Sunnyside 36-35 on Friday night in the 5A Sonoran opener for both teams.

“It was a pass play, and basically, I saw the hole and went for it,” Joplin said.

The game seemed out of reach for Marana after Nycholas “Brock” McDaniel scored his second touchdown of the night on a 16-yard run that put the Blue Devils up 35-14 with under seven minutes to go in the game.

But Joplin and the Tigers weren’t ready to throw in the towel.

Joplin found running back Matthew Jensen for a 42-yard touchdown pass followed by another scoring strike to Charles Ebunoha on consecutive possessions to cut Sunnyside’s lead to a touchdown with just under a minute remaining in the game.

Marana recovered the ensuing onside kick, allowing Joplin to swiftly march the Tigers into the red zone thanks to a pair of clutch receptions by Sam Brown. Joplin then connected with Jason Wood on an 8-yard touchdown pass, trimming Sunnyside’s lead to a point with under a second remaining on the clock.

“To start the last drive, it was, basically get the ball to Sam; he’s a great receiver and great after the catch,” Joplin said. “Once we got closer to the end zone, we knew we had to get it in, and in the end zone, there’s a lot of holes, especially because you can’t cover everyone at once while you’re still worried about the run, and I think that’s what got them.”

With 0.3 seconds left in the game and the momentum in their favor, Marana opted to go for a 2-point conversion. That’s when Joplin recognized a blitz, saw an opening, and intuitively took matters into his own hands when he rushed it up the gut and dove into the end zone on a designed pass play.

“Elijah played his butt off. That’s all you can ask for as a coach; he led the team,” Marana head coach Phillip Steward said. “He said, ‘Coach, there’s two minutes left, we can go score, we can go score twice if we have to,’ and that’s exactly what he did. He led us down there, and he ran it in for himself. 

“He saw some of the defense, and he called his number, and he got us the win.”

It didn’t look like it would be Marana’s night when they went down 14-0 to the Blue Devils in the first quarter. On Sunnyside’s first possession,  McDaniel scored on an 11-yard rushing touchdown, and outside linebacker Roman Canez intercepted Joplin and ran it back for a pick-6 on Marana’s next drive.

Marana answered when Joplin found Dezmen Roebuck for a short touchdown reception, but Sunnyside closed out the second quarter with two touchdown passes from quarterback Deion Conde — one to Diego Arellano and a deep ball to Tre’von Armstrong, putting the Blue Devils up 28-7 at halftime.

Brown helped turn the tide on offense for Marana when Joplin connected with him on a touchdown reception with four minutes left in the third quarter. The rest is history — tremendous history with this one of the most dramatic ever in Southern Arizona.

Joplin completed 33 of 50 passing attempts for 398 yards and five touchdowns and an interception.

Brown was Joplin’s top target with 14 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown. 

Marana (5-1, 1-0 in the 5A Sonoran) plays next at Rincon/University (1-5, 0-1) on Friday.

Sunnyside (4-2, 0-1) plays at Ironwood Ridge (2-4, 0-1) on Friday.

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. for both games.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood.  He is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.

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