4A Gila champion Catalina Foothills ends strong under first-year coach Daniel Sainz

Emotions were running high on Senior Night for the Catalina Foothills Falcons following a dominating 34-0 victory over the Douglas Bulldogs on Friday.

For players like quarterback Connor Smith or wide receiver Marcel Dixon, this was the last game in a Falcons uniform for them as making the state playoffs was just out of their reach.

It was an incredible season for them nonetheless, as they finished with a 6-4 record following a 1-4 start and earned the 4A Gila region champions.

“This is a group that had a chance to close up shop when the season was the other way at 1-3,” said Daniel Sainz, who is in his first season as head coach. “The fact that they actually just kept getting better every week when we had some tough games is huge. I can’t say enough of their effort. It’s a special group of kids.”

With his first season under his belt, his attention will now shift to building on the offseason and winning more titles.

“This is a community that asks for excellence and were trying to win more region titles,,” said Sainz, “A region title’s a big deal and we can’t say enough of what they’ve done so hopefully we can carry some of that momentum into the offseason and come back bigger and better next year.”

Smith was impressive in his last game at quarterback for the Falcons. He had three touchdown passes, all going to different receivers.

“I feel like as a team we just played really well. we came out, fired on all cylinders,” Smith said. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start but it didn’t stop us. We had great pass blocking and run blocking. (Yasuo) Bean balled out (at running back), all the receivers came out on every level. The defense went crazy.”

Smith has played for Catalina Foothills since he was a sophomore. To finish his last game as a Falcon was a bitter-sweet moment for him.

“It just meant a lot. It sucks that it’s over, but we got a big group of guys that are younger and ready to keep ballin’ out,” he said.

Catalina Foothills’ season started out rough, suffering a tremendous loss to the Sabino Sabercats at home. Things did not get better from there, as they dropped a close game to Walden Grove 28-27, putting them at 0-2 at the start of the season.

After a 34-16 victory at Pueblo, the Falcons found themselves with another two-game skid. They lost to Canyon Del Oro 21-14 and Pusch Ridge 35-14, putting them at 1-4.

Catalina Foothills came on strong in the 4A Gila portion of the schedule. The Falcons were able to start their winning streak with a tough home victory against Sahuaro, where Sainz coached as an assistant for a decade under Scott McKee.

The Falcons carried that momentum into region play, pulling off another close game against Amphi, which was 4-1 at the time.

Both Catalina Foothills offense and defense began playing to their full potential after those games. The Falcons nearly shut out Rio Rico 42-3 and dominated surging Empire the following week, 49-14.

“I know it was a tough start. Nobody wants to start of 1-3, but we were one yard away from a couple of W’s,” Sainz said. “So it’s just a big deal for them to finish out that way. They kept grinding. They just just stayed on the course and understood what we were trying to do and trying to install. They finally caught fire a little bit at the end.”

Catalina Foothills beat its last three opponents by an average score of 42-6.

“I just think we all came like a brotherhood,” Smith said. “We just got really close as time went on. from the youngest people, to the oldest people, Everything just formed together. We stayed the course.”


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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