Walden Grove defeated Rio Rico 39-7 on the road Friday night for its fourth-straight win in a game that was called early in the third quarter after an injury.
Rio Rico junior running back Hiram Lopez sustained what appeared to be a collarbone injury with 11:20 remaining in the third quarter.
EMTs strapped Lopez into a gurney and transported him to a nearby ambulance, and Rio Rico, who had already lost starting senior quarterback Reef Robbins to an apparent head injury midway through the first quarter, elected to call the game.
“I hope the kids OK that got hurt from Rio Rico,” Walden Grove head coach Corey Noble said.
Walden Grove (5-2) controlled the game on both sides of the ball, scoring a touchdown on every possession and suffocating a Rio Rico offense that struggled to find any momentum, especially in its passing game.
“We talked about playing our brand of football and we’re striving for perfection,” Noble said. ” We know it’s not attainable, but every play should be as close to perfect as we can get. We wanted to utilize our run game and utilize our speed on offense, and we wanted to play swarming Red Wolf football defense, and I think we did that tonight.”
Walden Grove senior running back Merrick Igasan closed out Walden Grove’s opening drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown to put the Red Wolves up 7-0 on Rio Rico with 7:19 remaining in the first quarter.
The Red Wolves never looked back from there.
Walden Grove’s passing attack began to assert itself on its next two possessions, with Red Wolves junior quarterback Gabriel Smith connecting with junior wide receiver Paul Guy for two touchdowns: a 10-yard reception with 1:28 remaining in the first quarter and a 16-yard reception with 7:22 remaining in the first half.
“That guy, he’s the guy,” Smith laughed. “I’ve been practicing with him in the offseason. We’ve been doing sessions on sessions together. Just trying to get that chemistry right altogether. So, I’m kind of comfortable with him, but it can’t just be about Paul Guy. It has to be about Caleb Lyden, Skyler Allen, and Sabastian Najar.
“It has to be about all those guys too, but that guy’s a baller, he’s a stud, and I can’t wait to have him in my senior year.”
On the following possession, Rio Rico senior punter Zaeus Osorio fell on an errant snap, giving the ball to Walden Grove on the Hawks’ 10-yard line.
Igasan would score on a 10-yard rushing touchdown to put Walden Grove up 26-0 with 5:01 left in the second quarter.
Rio Rico (3-4) showed signs of life on the next possession when junior wide receiver Humberto Osuna broke away for a 55-yard rushing touchdown, closing the gap to 26-7 and bringing the Hawks’ homecoming crowd to their feet.
The excitement was short-lived.
Smith finished a 56-yard drive with a 12-yard rushing touchdown with a minute left in the first half. After a failed two-point conversion, the Red Wolves took a 32-7 lead into the locker room.
The Red Wolves left off where they started in the first half when Smith connected with senior wide receiver Caleb Lyden for a 65-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive of the third quarter.
“They would switch it up a lot. They would bring a 3-front, and then they would go to a 4-front, and they would go to a 5-front,” Smith said. “A lot of different looks but just to overcome there. We knew what our assignment was, and we did our job.
“That’s what won us the game.”
Walden Grove’s win on Friday night marked the fourth-straight win since losing 28-20 to Phoenix Arizona College Prep in Chandler on Sept. 16.
“It’s not about the opponent, ultimately. I know it’s coaches’ talk, I know it’s all that, but our goal this week in practice and going forward is that our practices are getting us prepared for those games. Putting kids in tough positions in practice, working those situations, and doing all of those things.
“Again, our standard is not just, hey, we want to score more points than the opponent does here. It’s: we want to dominate on both sides of the football. We want to have a championship-level effort on every single play. Like it’s the last play we’re gonna play. Like it’s fourth-and-1 for the state championship on every single play.
“That’s how hard we want our kids to play with that type of effort.”
Walden Grove plays next Friday at Amphitheater (1-6). Rio Rico plays next Friday at Catalina Foothills (4-3). Kickoff for both games is at 7 p.m.
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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.