Marana drops first game of season in nail-biter against Mesa Westwood

Marana head coach Phillip Steward has a 10-4 record in his second season leading the Tigers. He joined the coaching staff in 2020 and became the head coach before last season. (Kevin Murphy/ All Sports Tucson)

Marana falls to Mesa Westwood 59-58, for its first loss of the season, after squandering a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter on Friday night.

Marana (3-1) was up 52-43 on fourth-and-goal at the Westwood 2-yard line with 3:13 remaining in the game when senior defensive back Nikita McCrimon picked off a pass in the end zone from Marana quarterback Elijah Joplin and ran it back 98 yards for the touchdown.

Westwood narrowed Marana’s lead to 52-51 after a successful two-point conversion.

“With the play call, I feel like it was the right play call,” Marana head coach Phillip Steward said. “The DB (McCrimon) just made a great play on the ball, so all props to him, he made a great play on the ball, and he was able to take it 98 yards, so hats off to him, he made that play. The quarterback (Joplin) came back and said, ‘He made a hell of a play,’ so hats off to him, he made that play, and I think that’s what just screwed the whole play up.

“I think it was a great call, but he just jumped that ball right there.”

Following the touchdown and two-point conversion, Westwood recovered an onside kick at the Marana 35-yard line.

A 12-yard rushing touchdown from Westwood junior quarterback Giordan Hanks, and the successful 2-point conversion run by him that followed, put the Warriors up 59-52 with 1:40 left on the clock.

Then it was Marana’s turn to make it interesting.

With 1:22 remaining, Joplin connected with junior wide receiver Jason Wood on a 65-yard touchdown pass to bring the Tigers within one, at 59-58.

Elijah Joplin and Matthew Jensen were involved in every Marana touchdown on Friday night. (Lexie Fegan/All Sports Tucson)

Marana elected to go for a game-winning two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game.

“We’ve been in that situation before, and my team — they want to win. So, I asked the boys, ‘what do you y’all wanna do?’ Let’s go for it, let’s put this away,” Steward said. ” They came down here from Phoenix. Let’s put it away. Let’s send them back home with a loss.” 

After a delay of game moved the Tigers back five yards, Joplin’s pass fell through the hands of senior wide receiver Sam Brown.

“He’s probably going to be fighting himself all week, but it happens, ” Steward said. Receivers drop balls. It happens.”

Marana attempted an onside kick, Westwood recovered, and that was that.

Steward delivered a blunt but surprisingly upbeat message to his team after the game.

“I basically told them, ‘Everything we’re out for is still in front of us,'” he said. Yeah, we took a loss; that happens in football, but everything we’re still trying to do this year is still out in front of us… I know they’re going to pout tonight, but it’s fine. In the morning, we’ll reevaluate the film, and we’ll go back to work Monday.  

“We’re going to be in another dog fight next week versus Cienega , so we’re gonna have to pick our heads up, and we’re going to have to go back to work on Monday.”

Marana held a 32-23 lead at halftime.

The Tigers’ defense struggled to contain the dual-threat of Hanks and McCrimon for the entirety of the game.

The Tigers specifically had trouble on several designed quarterback runs for the elusive, 6’5” Hanks.

Giordan Hanks evades Marana defenders on Friday night. (Lexie Fegan/All Sports Tucson)

McCrimon menaced Marana’s defense through the air and on the ground.

The duo combined for six touchdowns. 

Marana senior running back Matthew Jensen had four touchdowns, all in the first half.

Joplin had three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns.

Sophomore wide receiver Dezmen Roebuck, sophomore wide receiver Dominic Cillitto and Wood each had a touchdown reception.

Marana plays Saturday, Oct. 7 at Cienega. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.


 ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He is currently attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.

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