3A Semifinals: No. 3 Pusch Ridge vs. No. 2 Mesa Eastmark

No. 3 Pusch Ridge (11-1) vs. No. 3 Mesa Eastmark (11-1)

Kickoff: 2 p.m.

Site: Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School.

Eastmark coach: Scooter Molander (20-11, third year with the Firebirds and 133-63 in his 16th year overall).

Pusch Ridge coach: Kent Middleton (27-6, third year and overall with the Lions).

When Pusch Ridge has the ball:

Run percentage: 62.4 percent (392 rushes)

Pass percentage: 37.6 percent (236 passes)

Pusch Ridge, which has reached the 3A semifinals for the second time in Middleton’s brief tenure, rely heavily on the run but is also highly effective passing the ball behind junior QB Bubba Mustain (148 of 229 for 2,487 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions). … Mustain has also rushed for 412 yards on 88 carries with 12 touchdowns. RB combo Brysen Barrios (826 yards on 113 carries with 18 touchdowns) and Abraham Grajeda (710 yards on 120 rushes) has combined for 1,536 yards. … Four receivers have at least 20 catches. Mustain’s brother Tyler Mustain and Bryce Jewell are tied for the team lead with 36 catches. Tyler Mustain has amassed 698 yards receiving with 13 touchdowns while Jewell has 631 with six touchdowns. … Cody Rafacz has 30 receptions for 531 yards and five touchdowns and Jack Butler is at 22 catches for 320 yards and four touchdowns. … Eastmark features two linebackers with at least 100 tackles — Kaden Armstrong (112 tackles, 15 for loss) and Jeriah Krize (107 tackles and an incredible 34 for loss with 13 tackles and 56 quarterback hurries). … CB Daylan Tichenor has tallied nine interceptions and Eastmark has 20 picks overall.

When Eastmark has the ball:

Run percentage: 54.7 percent (300 rushes)

Pass percentage: 45.3 percent (248 passes)

A lot of balance with Eastmark’s execution. QB Mack Molander, son of Eastmark coach Scooter Molander, has completed 169 of 247 attempts for 2,568 yards with 32 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also gained 350 yards on the ground on 50 carries with seven touchdowns. … RB Diego Rodriguez has 1,012 yards on 109 carries with 13 touchdowns while fellow back Coleman Samples has scored on 16 rushes while compiling 750 yards on 83 rushes. … Mack Molander’s clear-cut top target is WR Austin Johnson (66 catches for 1,300 yards with 17 touchdowns). Jaxon Bailey has 28 receptions for 524 yards. … Tyler Mustain, also a linebacker, has consistently been one of the top tacklers all season with 151, including 15.5 for loss (5.5 of them sacks). DE Will Way, an Idaho State commit, has 49 tackles, 11.5 for loss with 4.5 sacks. … Jewell has tallied six interceptions at cornerback and the Lions have 16 overall.

Common opponents

Thatcher — Both teams lost at Eastern Arizona College against the No. 1 Eagles for their only defeat of the season — Eastmark 31-30 on Aug. 26 and Pusch Ridge 28-14 on Sept. 24.

Sabino — Eastmark defeated the Sabercats twice at home — 56-19 on Oct. 14 and 42-28 last week in the quarterfinals. Pusch Ridge topped Sabino at home 41-20 on Sept. 30.

Mohave — Eastmark defeated Mohave 45-10 at home on Sept. 23 while Pusch Ridge won 51-14 on the road Sept. 2.

Series record

Eastmark has only played at the varsity for the last three years. The Firebirds have lost twice to Pusch Ridge, including its first varsity game 41-6 to start the 2020 season. Pusch Ridge won at Eastmark 28-24 last season.


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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