Some Southern Arizona football notes on this Saturday in September:
Coaches of the unbeaten Southern Arizona teams remaining are viable coach of the year candidates, with some having more difficult roads to hoe in their respective region play than others:
2A San Pedro — Tombstone (4-0)
Dominik Bonilla: The Yellow Jackets are 4-0 for the first time since 2006, when they started 6-0 and finished 7-3 under late legendary coach Mike Hayhurst, who coached Bonilla at Tombstone. … Bonilla’s team won their region opener 33-26 over Benson on Friday night. … The Yellow Jackets have manageable games upcoming against region foes Willcox and Catalina with tests on the road against Tanque Verde and Bisbee. … The 2A San Pedro can very well come down to the game against Bisbee (2-2, 2-0 in 2A San Pedro) on Oct. 20.
3A South — Pusch Ridge (4-0)
Kent Middleton: Hard to believe Middleton’s first game as a head coach occurred less than three years ago and he is already at 31 career wins. Pusch Ridge is 4-0 for the third straight season under Middleton. The Lions started 5-0 last season en route to an 11-2 record. … The Lions go into the 3A South’s “Gauntlet Row,” as Middleton calls it, with a game at Sabino (4-1, 1-0 in 3A South) on Sept. 29. A home game with Morenci (3-2) follows. Morenci coach Rishard Davis will return to Pusch Ridge, where he was an assistant coach before leaving to Eloy Santa Cruz and coaching the Dust Devils to a 2A state title in 2020.
4A Kino — CDO (4-0)
Dustin Peace: The Dorados are 4-0 under Dustin Peace for the fourth time in his 15 years as head coach. They started 4-0 in 2009 and won the state title with a 14-0 record, 2010 and finished 13-1 with a loss in the state championship game, and 2019 and finished 8-3 with a loss in the first round. This season has the feel of 2009 and 2010 with a senior-heavy team. … The 4A Kino championship looks like it will come down to the Dorados’ home game with Mica Mountain on Oct. 13.
4A Kino — Mica Mountain (4-0)
Pat Nugent: Peace’s mentor who coached him at Flowing Wells and welcomed him to his staff at CDO in the early 2000s has the Thunderbolts on a nine-game winning streak dating to last season. One of those wins was a dominating 26-7 victory over the visiting Dorados in the final regular-season game. … Mica Mountain is coming off a 35-7 victory over Sunnyside and 49-7 win over Sabino the previous week. The Thunderbolts host 5A Casa Grande (3-1) on Friday before having a week off during their fall break at school. The 4A Kino season starts after that with a game at Pueblo (3-1) on Oct. 6. The showdown at CDO occurs the week after.
Definite Coach of the Year candidate, Pat Nugent at @MicaMountainFB, has his team on a roll with a 4-0 record after tonight’s 35-7 win at Sunnyside. Winning streak overall at nine games. Last time the Thunderbolts lost was almost a year ago, on Oct. 7, at Salpointe 55–14. pic.twitter.com/i6lVtgRW0g
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) September 16, 2023
5A Southern — Buena (4-0)
Joseph Thomas: The remarkable coaching performance of Thomas continues after he started 0-21 at Sierra Vista in 2015 and 2016 and the first game in 2017. Since then, Thomas is 34-23. Buena is 4-0 for the first time since 1995 when Hayhurst coached the Colts. … Buena hosts Pueblo on Friday. The Colts will attempt to start 5-0 for the first time since 1977 under legendary Truman Williamson. … Thomas’ team, which won at Tucson High 21-13 on Friday night, hosts Marana after playing Pueblo before it plays three consecutive road games against Desert View, Cienega and Sunnyside. That road stretch will tell if Buena will head to the postseason. … Thomas had Bonilla on his staff at Buena before Bonilla left to Tombstone three years ago. They are a combined 8-0 to start the season. Both were coached by Hayhurst at Tombstone.
6A Central — Salpointe Catholic (4-0)
Eric Rogers: Salpointe’s average margin of victory through its first four games is 30.3 points after Friday’s 50-6 win over visiting Valley Vista. … Salpointe is 4-0 under Rogers for the first time since his initial season with the Lancers during the COVID-19 season of 2020. The Lancers, with Bijan Robinson, Lathan Ransom and Treyson Bourguet, were 7-0 before losing to Chandler in the Open Division semifinals. … Salpointe has a week off before hosting Desert Vista (1-3) and Corona del Sol (1-3) in its first two 6A Central games. … A non-region game at Liberty (4-0) looms on Oct. 13. That game will be significant for Salpointe’s power points.
According to stats taken during Sabino’s 50-21 win at Safford by Lee Patterson, the sports radio host and sports director at KATO-AM in Safford, senior quarterback Cam Hackworth threw for 454 yards with six touchdowns while completing 29 of 41 passes.
That puts Hackworth in the top five of Southern Arizona quarterbacks in career passing yardage:
1 Rhett Rodriguez, Catalina Foothills, 8,694 (2013-16)
2 Trenton Bourguet, Marana, 7,612 (2015-18)
3 Andrew Cota, Sunnyside/Salpointe, 7,554 (2010-13)
4 Reggie Robertson, Sahuaro, 7,106 (1996-99)
5 Cam Hackworth, Sabino, 6,506 (2020-current)
6 Brian Chason, Tucson Christian: 6,408 (1982-85)
7 Elijah Joplin, Marana: 6,074 (2020-2022)
Hackworth’s six touchdown passes gives him 18 this season through five games and 75 in his career.
He hardly played his freshman season as a backup to AJ Skaggs. If he was a starter that season, he would certainly be breaking state records.
His size of 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds might be a concern for college recruiters, but he is a legitimate talent with a motor that runs at full speed. His football IQ is off the charts. The college that gives him an opportunity will be extremely grateful to have his skills.
— Sabino Football (@SabinoFootball1) September 16, 2023
TURNING POINT OF THE SEASON
Region schedules have already started in 1A South and 2A San Pedro and they began on Friday in the 3A South.
The 4A Kino and 4A Gila, 5A Southern and 5A Sonoran and 6A Central schedules start in two weeks.
Power rankings are released for the first time this season in three weeks on Oct. 3.
Also, teams are reaching their fifth games of the season. That means transfers will soon become eligible in the sixth game of the season. Their presence can alter the region races.
One team to watch in that regard: Sahuaro.
Second-year coach Al Alexander said he has at least five players who will become eligible in the Cougars’ sixth game at Catalina Foothills on Sept. 29.
One of them is Mica Mountain transfer Trevor Eagerton, a sophomore with potential at 6-feet and 195 pounds with an active background participating in quarterback camps.
RICHARD SANCHEZ VICTORIOUS IN FIRST RETURN TO SUNNYSIDE IN 13 YEARS
Richard Sanchez made his first return to Sunnyside since coaching his last season here in 2010 and won as Mica Mountain’s o-line coach in a 35-7 win. Since he joined Pat Nugent’s staff midway through last season, the Thunderbolts have yet to lose, 9-0 record. pic.twitter.com/154g5EKSBD
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) September 16, 2023
Legendary Richard Sanchez coached Sunnyside to two state championships in 2001 and 2003 and also led the wrestling program to five state titles.
He did not coach a football game at Sunnyside since leaving the school after the 2010 season until Friday night when Mica Mountain visited.
Now the offensive line coach at Mica Mountain, he helped prepare the Thunderbolts for their 35-7 victory over the Blue Devils.
In a classy move, Sunnyside’s administration delivered a message during the game over the PA system welcoming Sanchez back to the field.
He coached football at Sunnyside for 18 seasons, from 1993 to 2010, and has everlasting relationships built from his time at the southside school.
He talked with members of Sunnyside’s coaching staff before and after the game.
“Some are my nephews. Some I’ve coached. I harass them and ask them what are they doing on that side,” Sanchez said with a smile. “It’s good to see the kids and they’re involved, helping young kids that need help.
“That’s good to see.”
MOUNTAIN VIEW’S WIN AT MARANA SHOWS MATT JOHNSON’S COACHING WORTH
Mountain View’s Matt Johnson, Rio Rico’s Jeff Scurran and CDO’s Dustin Peace are active coaches in Southern Arizona with state championships.
Johnson won a state title most recently in 2012 at Ironwood Ridge when the Nighthawks finished 13-1.
He is in his fifth season at Mountain View, where he is 16-21, including an 0-3 start this season.
The struggles have brought forth skepticism of his future. One anonymous person on social media posted this week that Jay Dobyns should seek the Mountain View job.
Dobyns can be successful as a head coach at any high school, but that’s nonsense.
Mountain View pulled off the unthinkable on Friday night, upsetting juggernaut Marana 42-35 in the Battle of the Boot, despite having to use its third, fourth and fifth quarterbacks this season.
Will Howell, the starter entering the season, was lost for the season in the opener at Gilbert with an ACL tear.
Julian Palmieri, the backup, left last week’s game at Sunrise Mountain in the second half with a leg injury. He may return in two weeks after the Mountain Lions enjoy a much-needed week off with no game scheduled Friday.
Wide receivers and defensive back Justin Holguin, who started at quarterback in Friday’s game with Marana, Jeremy Ayres and Damian Wallace took snaps.
The Mountain Lions still defeated Marana, a program coming off a 9-2 season with hopes of returning to the 5A state playoffs.
“I have never had a big win with so many injuries,” Johnson mentioned. “The kids could have hung their heads, but they kept the faith.”
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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.