TEMPE — The Pueblo Warriors had a pleasant drive back to Tucson on Friday night following a 42-31 victory over the Tempe Buffaloes at their Homecoming game. Pueblo, now 3-3 at this point in the season, achieved a significant feat, as it’s been quite some time since the Warriors have won a game up north.
This cold Big Mac on the bus ride home tastes way sweeter after a W in phx. TUCSON PRIDE https://t.co/6djT857qxc
— Jake Allen (@Coach_J_Allen) October 16, 2021
“For us, this is a huge weight off our shoulders to come up here and get a win. That’s something we haven’t done in a long time at Pueblo. It’s been a monkey on our back playing Phoenix teams, and it’s a huge step in the right direction,” coach Jake Allen said.
“I think we’re really building a program, you know? Something more than just Tucson, something more than just the South Side, I think we’re just building a program right now trying to get our names on the map,” Junior Andre Blanton said.
Allen, who is in his second year with the program, says the boys have been on a mission since the beginning of the year, and it shows with the results they’re starting to see on the field.
“The amount of growth I’ve seen in just five weeks, this isn’t an excuse, but it’s where we started. We got one game in last year, so our experience week one this year, our most experienced guys had played in one varsity game. We’ve had to grow up,” Allen said.
It was a wild start to the game, with two explosive special teams plays, two fumbles and two interceptions all within the first quarter. Tempe had the ball first, but Pueblo defense was able to set the tone early by forcing a quick turnover on downs. The Warriors were able to score on their first possession, capped off with a 40-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Victor Rodriguez to Blanton.
Tempe fumbled the ball on the kickoff return, with Pueblo recovering it, but the Warriors weren’t able to capitalize. Rodriguez was picked off by Jamichael Keeton, who took it 72-yards for a touchdown. The kick was good, knotting it up at seven with 5:23 left in the first.
Pueblo had another interception on the following drive, this one snagged by Anatolio Pacheco, preventing the Warriors from entering the red zone and giving Tempe the ball at their own 26. However, Tempe ended up fumbling the ball right back, where Pueblo had a quick three and out before punting.
Tempe jumped out to the lead with just seconds left in the first quarter following a 27-yard touchdown run from Ulises Ontivero.
Pueblo tied things up to start the second quarter with a 37-yard pass from Rodriguez to Blanton and a good extra point. Each team would continue to trade the ball back and forth, with Rodriguez throwing another interception and the Buffaloes fumbling the ball away once again. With just under two minutes remaining in the half, Pueblo took a 17-14 lead with a field goal.
— Brittany Bowyer (@bbowyer07) October 16, 2021
The second half also got off to a bit of an odd start, with the Warriors fumbling the ball on the snap before punting on the first possession of the half. Looking to capitalize, the Buffaloes were able to kick a field goal and tie things up once again at 17 with 7:43 remaining in the game.
However, it took Pueblo less than three minutes to march down the field again, jumping out to a 24-17 lead with 5:17 remaining. Tempe, hanging tight, was able to counter with another 26-yard touchdown pass and a good extra point to tie things up yet again, this time at 24.
On the following drive, Pueblo’s punt was blocked, giving Tempe optimal field position at the Pueblo 35. The Buffaloes were able to take the lead to start off the fourth quarter, going up 31-24. The Warriors answered right back with a kick return for a touchdown, taken in by Isaac Martinez. In an effort to claim a lead, the Warriors went for two but couldn’t convert, making it 31-30 with Tempe on top.
From there, Pueblo defense did a great job of getting things done throughout the fourth quarter to really help the Warriors nab the win. After forcing Tempe to punt, running back Andrew Gonzalez did a great job of moving the chains. He capped the drive off with a five-yard touchdown run, putting the Warriors back on top 36-31. Pueblo, again, elected to go for two, but couldn’t convert.
“It clicked for (Gonzalez). Tonight was his night where he figured out our offense, our scheme, how we want to run the ball. I’m very proud of him, it adds a different dimension to our offense that we were missing and needed,” Allen said.
It wouldn’t matter, though. Pueblo’s defense was so fired up, they held Tempe to negative yardage before forcing a fumble. It was recovered by Warriors freshman defensive end Armando Ybarra. From there, Gonzalez was able to punch it in to give Pueblo the security touchdown needed to win the game.
.@PuebloFootball defense with a HUGE defensive stop, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Warriors freshman defensive end Armando Ybarra. Pueblo able to capitalize with a 24-yard touchdown run by Andrew Gonzalez to take a 42-31 lead with 1:51 remaining to play pic.twitter.com/wherktYowS
— Brittany Bowyer (@bbowyer07) October 16, 2021
“Our guys just fight all night, I’m really proud of them,” Allen said.
You’d have never guessed Rodriguez is normally one of the stellar receivers for the Warriors instead of the gunslinger. He stepped in to fill the role after the usual starter, Diego Ramirez, went down last week with an ankle injury. Rodriguez, aggressive with his passing, so far has appeared to be one of the stronger quarterbacks in Southern Arizona despite his number of interceptions.
“He’s just a senior leader on this team. He’s unflappable, he’s mentally very tough, and he’s got ice in his veins,” Allen said.
Rodriguez completed 13 of his 26 pass attempts for approximately 211 yards and three interceptions.
“I’m really proud of him because through the adversity, he came back and finished the game strong,” Blanton said.
“We’re hoping to have Diego back next week. We have two good quarterbacks, and that’s a good problem to have,” Allen added.
Pueblo is preparing to host Canyon del Oro next week in the Warriors’ 4A Kino opener in what will certainly be a gritty battle.
Knowing their performance on the field against Tempe still wasn’t good enough, the players talked to each other as a group after the game about how they need to be better and stay disciplined. They’ll get back to work this week in hopes of cleaning things up before reaching the thick of their schedule.
“We really just have got to work on our discipline. We’re making plays, but we’re giving up big plays, too,” Blanton said.
“They’ve taken charge… That ownership not only is funner football, but I think down the road, what we’re trying to build, a player-led team is a championship team. That’s what we’re trying to do here,” Allen said.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07