Empire enhances 4A state playoff hopes with win at Amphi

Empire is on the cusp of a potential 4A Gila title (Photo by Michael Rincon of Michael Rincon Photography).

The Empire Ravens and the Amphitheater Panthers met in a 4A Gila showdown Friday night to determine which team would keep its playoff hopes alive.

Empire took control of the game from the start and won convincingly 27-7 to improve to 5-4 overall and 3-0 in the region.

The win sets up a region title game at Empire next week with Catalina Foothills (4-4, 2-0).

The Ravens are ranked No. 31 in the 4A and Catalina Foothills is at No. 28. Based on those ratings, it may be difficult for either to reach the 16-team 4A state playoff field, but a 4A Gila championship banner hanging in the gym would be very nice.

Leading the charge for Empire out of the backfield against Amphi (4-3, 1-2) was senior running back Jake Lambert, who had two touchdowns and played both ways for the entirety of the game. He is also the top tackler in Southern Arizona as a linebacker.

“It was a great game overall. Offensively, we handled the ball. Defensively, we handled the ball,” Lambert said. “We were just playing well tonight. We knew it was gonna be a tough game tonight and we came out strong.”

Senior wide receiver/cornerback Jacob Puentes also had a nice night from both sides of the ball. He snagged two receiving touchdowns and an interception..

Head coach George Kelly, in his third year, had high praise for his team but knows that there is plenty more football to play before they can solidify a spot in the state playoffs.

“I tell the guys this is business as usual. This is nothing new. From the start of the season, we continue to get better,” said Kelly. “What we have to do is continue to believe that we got better-and we got better.

“We got Cat Foot (Catalina Foothills) ahead of us. We’re not gonna overlook them. It’s gonna be a challenge and we’re up for it.”

It was Empire who had found the end zone first. Senior quarterback Miles Kinney, a Salpointe transfer who has evolved into one of the best quarterbacks in Southern Arizona, found Puentes with a long ball.

Both teams battled for possession for the remainder of the first quarter. Each team had at least one turnover before the first quarter ended. Amphi had a field goal blocked following a drive that gave them 30 easy yards due to two personal fouls.

After freshman Jacob Espinoza made an interception, Amphi’s drive didn’t last long after that because of a fumble three plays later.

Empire took advantage of the turnover. They managed to drive down the field and score a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead. Lambert finished the drive with a 1-yard run into the end zone. Neither team scored for the rest of the half.

Only three minutes into the third quarter Lambert once again found the end zone. He scored on a 49-yard sweep play to make it 21-0.

The Panthers then answered back with a kickoff return by Kevin Quintero for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7.

Empire put the game out of reach when Kinney found Puentes in the end zone again to make it a three possession game at 27-7 with 11:46 left. The Ravens’ defense kept Amphi out of the end zone for the remainder of the game.

Amphi travels to Vail on Friday to take on Mica Mountain Thunderbolts (2-2) in a non-region game.


Nathaniel Martinez is an aspiring sports journalist who is a Sahuaro High School graduate and Pima Community College student. He has written for the Aztec Press at Pima. While at Sahuaro, he played football for longtime coach Scott McKee and he wrestled for the Cougars.

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