2023 High School Football

Cienega hits reset button with victory over Tempe McClintock

Cienega coach Justin Argraves has his team 3-2 at the midway part of the season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Cienega coach Justin Argraves told his team following Thursday night’s 23-19 victory over visiting Tempe McClintock that they successfully “hit the reset button” after a humbling three-touchdown loss at Walden Grove the week before.

The reset includes a brief opportunity to relax and rehabilitate from injuries with a week off before opening 5A Southern play Oct. 6 at Casa Grande.

The break is much needed for Cienega’s roller-coaster season in which the Bobcats (3-2) followed a 49-8 loss at Desert Ridge with consecutive wins at home over Paradise Valley and Tucson before losing at Walden Grove.

“Last week, it was rough but the kids responded all week,” Argraves said. “Like I told them after the game, they could have easily put their heads down and moped around this week, but they got right back to work on Saturday last week and had a great week in practice and in the weight room.

“Their confidence was where it needed to be going into this game.”

McClintock (3-2) averaged 46.5 points entering the game with its three wins accomplished by an average margin of 23.3 points. Its lone loss was 48-47 against a 3-1 Tempe Marcos de Niza team on Sept. 1.

Cienega’s opportunistic defense helped cause four turnovers by McClintock in the first half. That set the tone.

The most significant turnover occurred with less than a minute remaining in the first half and McClintock threatening at the Cienega 4.

Ledainean Moore emerged from the scrum at the 1 with the football after the fumble recovery, preserving Cienega’s 23-13 lead going into halftime.

“We needed to get the stop,” Moore said. “(Cienega’s lead) was not by much.”

A fumble by McClintock caused by Moore set up Cienega’s first touchdown of the game after the Bobcats gained possession at the Charger 18.

After two runs for a total of 15 yards by Gabriel Lopez, Cienega quarterback Evan Weber scored on a 3-yard run to put the Bobcats ahead 10-6 with 11:57 left in the half.

Sean Cadena later thwarted a deep McClintock drive by intercepting a pass at the Cienega 15.

The Chargers scored on its following possession on a 13-yard pass from Jaxon Knutson to Peter Schoppe to take a 13-10 lead.

The lead lasted only a few seconds because Ari Dubin bolted past defenders for an 80-yard kickoff return.

McClintock was forced to punt in its next series and Cienega continued its significant momentum push from Dubin’s kickoff return by capping their next drive with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Weber to Ayden Billings.

By that point, last week’s loss was an afterthought.

“It’s definitely ‘Prove them wrong,’ each week,” Weber said while wearing a headband with that slogan. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. We believe in what our coaches believe in and that’s what’s going to happen.”

Weber completed 10 of 19 pass attempts for 115 yards with a touchdown.

McClintock achieved its longest sustained drive starting at its 13 and finishing with a 4-yard touchdown run by Knutson with 11:46 remaining in the game. The extra-point was blocked, which was significant because it meant Cienega continued to hold a two-possession lead at 23-19.

A McClintock player was ejected from the game after the touchdown for a second personal foul penalty called against him and he argued with the referee.

The ejection adversely affected the Chargers, whose last two possessions ended with a punt and a turnover on downs.

Cienega’s defense played a major role in McClintock’s offensive deficiencies as well after the Chargers produced at a high rate in the first four games.

McClintock was held to 46 yards rushing on 26 attempts, only 1.7 yards per carry. Knutson was sacked three times but was able to complete 22 of 40 pass attempts for 272 yards.

“A lot of momentum swings we talked about all week and in pregame,” Argraves said about what his defense created.

Although Cienega does not play next Friday, Argraves made it clear to his players that hard work must continue, including an early film session this Friday.

“We’ll get a little time to rest and recover and we’ll get things running right with Casa Grande,” Argraves said. “That’s a tremendous football team over there. It will be a good test for us.”

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