Pusch Ridge overpowers ALA-West Foothills in second half of season-opening rout

Pusch Ridge’s defense yielded ALA-West Foothills only one first down in the second half until the Guardians’ last possession (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Pusch Ridge appeared as though it could be taken to the limit Saturday by visiting ALA-West Foothills, which had an abundance of players and size although this is the first year of varsity football for the far-west Phoenix-area school.

The Guardians, a 3A school with 61 players, had formidably-sized linemen, running backs and linebackers of whom Pusch Ridge coach Kent Middleton described as “gigantic.” The program is so new it did not have a roster available for the public until Saturday and the height and weight of its players are not listed.

“That’s as big of a team that I’ve coached against,” said Middleton, in his third season as Pusch Ridge’s head coach and 32nd overall including as an assistant.

Much to Middleton’s benefit, no player stood as tall figuratively as junior quarterback Bubba Mustain, especially in the second half of the 37-7 win in front of a capacity crowd at Pusch Ridge.

The total yards by each team at halftime were about as even as the 7-7 score with ALA-West Foothills gaining 115 yards to 104 for Pusch Ridge.

The second half was a mismatch with Middleton’s quick-read option passing scheme operated to near perfection by Mustain, who made his first career varsity start at quarterback after playing primarily receiver in his first two seasons.

Pusch Ridge’s speed and athleticism were too much for the bigger Guardians in the end.

The Lions had 198 yards of total offense in the second half compared to only 90 for ALA-West Foothills (76 of the Guardians’ yards came in their last possession after Pusch Ridge built its 37-7 lead). ALA-West Foothills had only one first down in the second half until that last possession.

“We pulled together; we’re tough. We made the plays and held them to short yardage,” said senior running back/linebacker AB Grajeda, who continually darted through the line on offense to gain 135 yards on 19 carries with touchdown runs of 13 and 15 yards.

“The defense got stronger throughout the game,” said Bubba’s brother Tyler, a 6-foot-2 and 220-pound linebacker who was involved in numerous tackles and also caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from his brother.

“We condition a lot in practice and I think that paid off.”

Bubba Mustain completed all three of his pass attempts in the first half for 51 yards. He was unleashed in the second half, throwing15 times. He completed nine of those passes, three for touchdowns.

He finished completing 12 of 18 pass attempts for 157 yards. Three of the incompletions were dropped passes that were accurately thrown.

“The offense played great and made the adjustments that needed to be made,” Bubba said. “We started rolling and getting our tempo up.”

ALA – West Foothills controlled the line of scrimmage and tempo early. Pusch Ridge had only one three-and-out possession in the first quarter.

The Guardians scored their lone touchdown starting at their 41 with 7:47 left in the first quarter and finishing 13 plays later with Caden Callister’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Auau on a fourth-and-goal play with 8.7 seconds remaining.

Pusch Ridge responded by continuously going to Grajeda, who had a bulk of the carries after fellow senior Brysen Barrios suffered a dislocated elbow. Grajeda carried the ball seven of the 10 plays of the possession for 41 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown with 9:20 left in the second quarter to tie the game at 7.

“What a performance tonight by AB,” Middleton said of Grajeda, whose brother Javier was a standout running back with the Lions the previous two years. “AB stood in there and did a great job. He’s hard to bring down; he’s very durable. He’s very tough and strong. He’s got more speed and quickness than people think.”

Both teams punted on their next possessions before halftime.

Pusch Ridge took the opening kickoff of the second half and Bubba Mustain engineered a 16-play drive that ended with Tyler Nolan’s 38-yard field goal that looked like it could have cleared at least 50 yards with 7:28 left in the third quarter

In that drive, Mustain completed three passes on third down and also converted a first down on a fourth-and-1 play by pushing his way for the yard.

Kent Middleton, a former Arizona Icecats star, is 17-5 in his third season as Pusch Ridge’s coach (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

After ALA – West Foothills had a three-and-out, a 10-yard punt allowed Pusch Ridge to begin its next possession at the Guardian 24.

On the second play, Bubba connected with Tyler for the 29-yard touchdown. Tyler was unguarded on a post pattern and Bubba threw the ball perfectly to him. Nolan’s PAT gave Pusch Ridge a 17-7 lead with 5:22 left in the third quarter.

“Bubba’s a great competitor … Bubba was solid, great night for him,” said Middleton, who added about Tyler: “I’ve been coaching for 32 yards and Tyler Mustain is one of the best football players I’ve ever coached.”

Pusch Ridge again struck quickly after a fumble that was recovered by the Lions’ Colin Mullen at the Guardian 9-yard line. After a 6-yard loss on a play, Bubba connected with Cody Rafacz for a 15-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 23-7 with 4:40 left in the quarter.

Former Ironwood Ridge assistant Soma Helu, now a line coach with Pusch Ridge, addresses the Lions after the victory (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Bubba completed three of four passes in Pusch Ridge’s next possession, capped by his 12-yard scoring strike to Bryce Jewell that put the Lions ahead 30-7 with 11:20 left.

Two plays into ALA – West Foothills’ next possession, Jewell, who had four receptions for 61 yards, had an interception that gave the Lions the ball at the Guardian 25.

Three straight “Wildcat” plays with Grajeda taking a direct snap concluded with the senior rushing 15 yards for the final score of the game with 9:02 left.

“As a team, we came out a little slow,” Jewell said. “We saw some film and I think we came out a little cocky and it showed. Second half, we went into the locker room and got a little pep talk, and we came out hitting. I like that.

“We just kept it rolling. We were better conditioned than them. Overall, we did good, but we can do better.”

Pusch Ridge next hosts Paradise Honors on Friday. Paradise Honors, who is in the 3A Metro West with ALA-West Foothills, is coming off a 54-7 win Friday over Wickenburg at home. It will be the first meeting between Paradise Honors and Pusch Ridge in football.


ALA-West Foothills70007
Pusch Ridge07171337


ALA-WF: Brandon Auau 8 pass from Caden Callister (kick good)

PR: AB Grajeda 13 run (Tyler Nolan kick)

PR: Nolan 38 FG

PR: Tyler Mustain 29 pass from Bubba Mustain (Nolan kick)

PR: Cody Rafacz 15 pass from Bubba Mustain (kick failed)

PR: Bryce Jewel 12 pass from Bubba Mustain (Nolan kick)

PR: Grajeda 15 run (Nolan kick)


ALA-West Foothills: Callister 11-43, Marquez Smith 7-29, Jacob Cano 3-27, Memphis Palelei 9-27, Jack Hayward 5-19, Seth Goldberg 6-5.

Pusch Ridge: Grajeda 19-135, Bubba Mustain 5-14, Brysen Barrios 2-8.


ALA-West Foothills: Callister 4-8 61 (1 INT/1 TD).

Pusch Ridge: Bubba Mustain 12-18 157 (0 INT/3 TDs).


ALA-West Foothills: Tegan Kirkpatrick 1-27, Hayward 1-27, Auau 1-8.

Pusch Ridge: Jewell 4-61, Rafacz 4-47, Tyler Mustain 1-29, Jack Butler 3-20.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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