High School Football

Jeff Scurran, Rio Rico continue process of building success, lasting memories

RIO RICO — Career coaching wins involve more than the 256 that Jeff Scurran has compiled in his 29 years leading programs at the high school level. The victories of life, gaining friendships from those he coached, have the most meaning for Scurran.

“You become close as family,” Scurran, 74, said after Rio Rico’s 23-0 win over visiting Empire on Friday night.

The bonds that become so strong for Scurran were exemplified after the game when he stood near midfield with two of his former players during his one-year stint at Dalles (Ore.) Wahtonka High School in 1981.

Only one year together, but it was magical.

Wahtonka went from losing 18 straight games before Scurran’s arrival to finish 9-2 with a quarterfinal finish in Oregon’s state playoffs. Scurran moved on to Portland’s West-Linn High School the following season.

“I was with them for one year more than 40 years ago and they drove to be here,” Scurran said looking at his former running back Danny Watson and defensive end and receiver Tim Perkins with the Eagles during that memorable 1981 season.

Scurran has visited Dalles a few times for reunions and has stayed at Perkins’ home. Perkins, also here to cheer on Oregon against Arizona on Saturday, wore a Rio Rico cap of which he ordered online ahead of the trip.

All this after just one season together, 11 games.

“They had lost 18 straight games and were not very good,” Scurran said. “I jokingly made the comment to somebody before the season, ‘Watch, you’re going to see a miracle here.’ They started printing t-shirts. It was something else.”

Scurran, in his first year at Rio Rico, called over a standout of Friday’s game, senior receiver and defensive back Nathan Villegas, to meet Watson and Perkins.

Standing nearby were three of Scurran’s assistants who played for him at different high schools in Tucson — Robbie Moen (Flowing Wells when Scurran was the offensive coordinator there), Isaac Banks (Sabino) and Devin Smith (Catalina Foothills).

“You can see the bond we have with him,” Banks said before the game. “It’s special.”

Rio Rico’s Nathan Villegas meets Jeff Scurran’s former Dalles (Ore.) Wahtonka High School players from 1981 — Tim Perkins (second from left) and Danny Watson (far right) (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Scurran has not promised a miracle in 2022 with Rio Rico, which has only one winning season in its 25 years of existence, but he has mentioned to the community it will see a culture change.

Rio Rico’s facility enhancements are indicative of that. The school used its new home seating section and press box on the eastside of the stadium for the first time on Friday night. A state-of-the-art training facility adjacent to the home bleachers is soon to be under construction.

A synthetic turf field was installed last season.

“We now have the best high school football stadium in Southern Arizona,” Rio Rico principal Hector Estrada said.

No argument here.

If the AIA needs a neutral site involving a Southern Arizona team in the playoffs, it should inquire about playing the game at Rio Rico. The school has immediate accessibility off I-17.

Scurran’s Hawks enter the 4A Gila schedule on Friday down I-17 at Sahuarita (0-5) with a 2-3 record after snapping a three-game losing streak with the shutout of Empire, which entered the game at 3-1.

The game was a defensive struggle through the first half with both teams using backup quarterbacks because of injuries to starters Reef Robbins of Rio Rico and Ethan Goodall of Empire.

The Ravens, who allowed only three touchdowns through their first four games, were beset by turnovers. They tallied four while Rio Rico had none.

Empire had its chances to score in the first half but interceptions by Jose Perez and Villegas kept the Ravens from the end zone. Perez’s interception stopped Empire at the Rio Rico 23 with 3:50 left in the first quarter and Villegas’ pick was near the Hawks’ goal line with 10:02 remaining in the second quarter.

“It feels amazing; this is what our team needed,” Villegas said. “We put in the work everyday at practice. You couldn’t tell we were 1-3. We were in there. We put every work in. We did everything possible. The outcome showed it all.”

Rio Rico’s two victories this season are more than it experienced in the last two years when the Hawks went 1-10 in COVID-19-shortened seasons.

A fumble recovery by Rio Rico defensive end Marlo Rodriguez at the Empire 45-yard line with 7:12 left in the first half set up the game’s first touchdown.

Villegas had three runs for 28 yards, including a 3-yard run up the middle with 4:45 remaining in the second quarter to give Rio Rico a 7-0 lead.

Villegas’ rushing contributed to Rio Rico scoring on its first three possessions of the second half.

After Perez recovered a fumble at the Empire 22 with 9:22 left in the third quarter, Villegas rushed five times, including a 7-yard gain, that set up Axel Covarrubias’ 19-yard field goal that put Rio Rico ahead 10-0.

Villegas rushed three times for 23 yards in the next possession, capped by quarterback Andres Lopez running in from eight yards.

His 31 yards on five rushes in the following possession led to Lopez’s five-yard touchdown run with 8:55 remaining.

Villegas had 43 yards rushing on 11 carries as part of Rio Rico’s 90 yards of total offense in the first half. He finished with 24 carries for 117 yards. The Hawks amassed 221 yards in the game, 200 on the ground.

“At the beginning, they did some things to shut down our running game,” Scurran said. “We just had to adjust. It was a little frustrating at first.

“To be able to step in to make the adjustments and play dominant … the defense was dominant all night. I really thought we had a good plan that fit our kids well and they executed.”

Empire, which eventually had to play its third-string quarterback because of an injury suffered by Jordan Naveunxay, finished with 91 yards of total offense. Only 40 of that was in the second half when Rio Rico pulled away.

The Ravens’ passing game struggled completing 3 of 18 passes for 36 yards with the two costly interceptions.

Lopez attempted only five passes and completed three of them for 21 yards for Rio Rico.

Empire opens its 4A Kino season Friday hosting fellow Vail school Mica Mountain (1-4).


Veteran coach Jeff Scurran recently completed his 39th year overall as a head coach, 26th at a Southern Arizona high school and second year at Rio Rico. His career started in 1970 at a middle school in Atlanta. Researched by AllSportsTucson.com.
1970-71Atlanta (GA) Moreland School20-0
1978Tahoe-Truckee (CA) HS3-5-1
1981Dalles (OR) Wahtonka HS9-2
1982-83Portland (OR) West Linn HS9-10
1984-86CDO HS28-10
1988-99Sabino HS127-27-1
2001-04Pima CC26-17
2007-09Santa Rita HS34-7
2012Guelfi Firenze (Italy)10-2
2013-18Catalina Foothills HS44-23
2019Allgau Comets (Germany)1-5
2021Stuttgart Scorpions (Germany)0-2
2022-23Rio Rico HS8-12
26th yearSouthern AZ HS241-79-1
30th yearAll HS262-96-2
39th yearAll stops319-152-2


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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