Canyon del Oro coach Dustin Peace needed direction with his academics and life in general, a homeless teen during some of his time attending neighborhood school Flowing Wells from 1996 to 2000.
He spent the last three years at Flowing Wells on his own, the last two under the Youth On Their Own Program.
A person who helped him immensely will coach against him Friday night in one of the most significant high school football games Southern Arizona has known.
No. 2 Mica Mountain plays at No. 3 CDO at 7 p.m. Both teams are 6-0 overall and 1-0 in the 4A Kino.
Mica Mountain coach Pat Nugent, Flowing Wells’ coach during Peace’s career with the Caballeros, would not allow his star linebacker to slip after what could have been a debilitating torn Achilles’ tendon injury three games into Peace’s senior season.
“He disciplined me when I was in high school and all that stuff,” Peace told me about Nugent. “He helped with my recruitment by NAU even though I missed most of my senior season. He went with me on a recruiting trip there.”
After Peace returned to Tucson following a short career at NAU, cut short because of a neck injury, Nugent welcomed him on his staff after Nugent became coach at CDO. While earning an education degree at Arizona, Peace coached under Nugent starting in 2002 and was soon thereafter elevated to defensive coordinator with the Dorados.
“You could say Dusty has never let anything get in his way, including homelessness,” Nugent told the Arizona Daily Star when Peace was a senior with the Caballeros. “He was selected as the football team’s captain. He was doing well academically and he was inducted into the National Honor Society.
“Then he was injured. Anybody else would have given up. Dusty is not a quitter. In his walking cast on the sideline, he was the team’s No. 1 fan. His academic performance never suffered.”
Peace replaced Nugent as CDO’s head coach in 2009, when Nugent took the Pima College job.
Peace’s first team won the state title with a 14-0 record and the 2010 team finished as the state runner-up at 13-1.
Those teams included the likes of Blake Martinez, Ka’Deem Carey, Jared Tevis and Josh Robbins.
Nugent is 3-0 against his protégé, including last year’s 26-7 upset victory over CDO at Mica Mountain in the regular-season finale, earning the Thunderbolts the 4A Kino title in only their second season at the varsity level.
That was Mica Mountain’s fifth straight win to end the season after an 0-5 start. The Thunderbolts have not lost since.
They take an 11-game winning streak into Friday’s game.
CDO is motivated to avenge last year’s loss. Mica Mountain is drawing inspiration from the Dorados going on to the state playoffs while the Thunderbolts stayed home.
Peace’s team came an overtime away from reaching the 4A state title game, losing in the semifinals in an extra period at Snowflake.
“The biggest thing for us is this is a matchup we wanted for a long time,” Nugent told AllSportsTucson.com’s Lori Burkhart after Mica Mountain’s 57-0 win at Pueblo last week. “I think our kids took a little chip on their shoulder a little bit after we beat them by 20 (actually by 19) last year and CDO got ranked No. 1 this year (entering the season). That’s 11 games in a row (with a win) with the group of kids we’ve been putting on the field. We’re the same team we had last year …
“Our kids are excited. I think it helped us with CDO getting ranked as high as they did because we just beat them. We’re excited about that but we have to go prove it on the football field. We’ve got to go to their place. It’s going to be a great high school football game. Two great teams. Two great coaching staffs. It’s going to be really exciting. It’s going to be a great Friday night in Tucson.”
Peace went so far as to say the game of football, with Nugent his high school coach, saved his life.
“Head coaches that save kids’ lives like this, change their lives, he’s like a father figure to me,” Peace said. “We’re competitive with each other. We both have some pretty good teams. This is what it’s about.”
When asked this week about what makes him most proud about Peace, considering Peace’s difficult years as an adolescent, Nugent said: “The great person he has become — tremendous leader, husband, but also a great father. I always knew he would be successful.”
Both have won more than 100 games in their high school coaching careers.
Nugent is 153-64 in his 21st season with stops at Flowing Wells, CDO and Cienega before starting the Mica Mountain program in 2021.
Peace is 111-50 in his 15th season as the Dorados’ coach.
2. CANYON DEL ORO (13-0)Head coach: Dustin Peace
Dorados compete in the 4A Kino. Bold are playoff games. Championship 12/1 starts at 4 p.m. at ASU.
|9/1||at Bradshaw Mountain||W||42||7|
|10/6||at Catalina Foothills||W||50||14|
|11/17||AZ College Prep||W (4OT)||33||27|
CDO’s players, including senior offensive/defensive tackle Sa’Kylee Woodard, remember the feeling of coming up empty at Mica Mountain last year in a game with the 4A Kino title on the line.
The Dorados persevered to that point after playing the second half of the season without six players, including five seniors, who were disciplined by the Amphitheater School District for an alleged off-the-field violation of student conduct regulations.
“I’m really excited; they’re a great team,” Woodard said of Mica Mountain. “They’re just as good as us. We’re ready to play football, some real hard-nosed football. We’re ready to get after it.
“For us, they beat us last year. This is our get-back. We’ve been working hard enough. We have what it takes this year to pull through. We weren’t ready last year, safe to say. We’ve been taking the procedures and measures to be ready this year.”
3. MICA MOUNTAIN (11-1)Head coach: Pat Nugent
Thunderbolts compete in the 4A Kino. Bold are playoff games.. Playoff games at 7 p.m.
|8/25||at Poston Butte||W||34||28|
|10/13||at Canyon del Oro||L||15||17|
|11/3||at Catalina Foothills||W||28||21|
|11/24||at Canyon del Oro|
Woodard is one of 29 seniors for the Dorados, who feature 1,000-yard running back Kayden Luke and a defense that includes safety Chase Laux (Southern Arizona leader with five interceptions).
Evan Greer, a junior defensive end with CDO, sets the tone for the front seven with 11 tackles for loss, including five sacks.
Mica Mountain has 26 seniors headlined by linebacker/running back Kason Colbert (52 tackles and 789 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns).
Jayden Thoreson, the Thunderbolts’ prolific-passing junior quarterback, has a bevy of skill-position players to throw to including Jack Bradley, Jonah Garcia and Devin Hayward. That trio has combined for 59 receptions for 767 yards with 10 touchdowns.
“There’s a lot on the line; I think our kids are excited about it,” Peace said. “One thing for us and both programs is whatever happens in that game, it isn’t the end or championship of anyone’s season.
“It could possibly be a region championship — we’ve got more teams to play — but it’s a good test for the second half of the season. … A lot to look forward to and this is what Friday Night Football is all about.”
Peace can chuckle now at his 0-3 record against Nugent, saying, “I wonder if he’s going to let me win once.”
Top Southern Arizona HS Football Coaching RecordsList of top active Southern Arizona coaches in victories of their high school head coaching careers. Compiled and researched by AllSportsTucson.com.
|Jeff Scurran||Rio Rico||4A||318||151||2||.678||39|
|Pat Nugent||Mica Mountain||4A||158||65||0||.708||21|
|Matt Johnson||Mountain View||5A||132||85||0||.608||20|
The winner might move into the Open Division, which includes the top eight teams in the state classified 4A to 6A based on power points. Mica Mountain is one spot out of the top eight and CDO is No. 10.
Seven of the schools presently ranked in the Open Division are in the 6A and the other is a 5A program (No. 7 Desert Edge).
Mica Mountain and CDO are 4A schools that will have a decided disadvantage if they have to play 6A powerhouse programs such as No. 1 Peoria Centennial or No. 2 Peoria Liberty in the opening round of the playoffs.
“Obviously, teams in 4A playing teams in the 6A, the discrepancy is a lot bigger than it used to be,” Peace said. “In 2009 and 2010, when we had NFL players (Martinez and Carey) on our team, we could go toe-to-toe with those guys, but nowadays, the gap is pretty big.
“We have 40 freshmen on our team while (Phoenix) Brophy is running 200 kids on their freshman team. Competing on that level becomes tough. A lot of our guys go two-ways (defense and offense). You don’t see that a lot at the big schools.”
Both coaches are focused for now on Friday’s game and finishing with a high 4A ranking to host games in the playoffs.
CDO and Mica Mountain could very well meet again in the state playoffs, either in the championship game or with a spot in the title game on the line.
“Great for the kids to experience something like this,” Nugent mentioned of Friday’s matchup, the biggest of its kind in Southern Arizona since 2017 when Cienega and Jamarye Joiner played Marana and Trenton Bourguet twice in thrillers (once in the postseason).
Nugent, Cienega’s coach at the time, was part of those games as well.
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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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.