2023 High School Football

Thrilling win by No. 3 CDO over No. 2 Mica Mountain showcase for Southern Arizona football

CDO’s Kayden Luke bulldozed his way to 151 yards on 27 carries in the Dorados’ 17-15 win over visiting Mica Mountain on Friday night (Gilbert Alcaraz/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

The Mica Mountain-Canyon del Oro classic that took place Friday night at Dorado Field was a game of give and take and ups and downs for both teams — plenty of drama to increase the blood pressure and keep the eyes peeled of the sell-out crowd.

This is the type of game involving two high-quality teams — that can beat any team in the state at the 4A level — Southern Arizona has craved from its high school football programs for years, especially coming out of COVID-19.

No. 3 CDO’s 17-15 victory over No. 2 Mica Mountain was also pleasing to the eyes in terms of the precision of how it was played — only five penalties total for both teams and no turnovers. That was certainly a result of teams coached by two of the best in the state — Mica Mountain’s Pat Nugent and his protégé Dustin Peace of CDO.

This was the game in microcosm:

Mica Mountain junior quarterback Jayden Thoreson completed all five of his passes in the final drive for 78 yards, including a 3-yard scoring strike to tight end Jimmy Leon in the back of the end zone with 32.6 seconds left. That cut CDO’s lead to 17-15. Just when Thoreson’s hot hand seemed too scorching for the Dorados, their top playmaker — odd to call a lineman a playmaker but that describes senior tackle Sa’Kylee Woodard — sacked Thoreson on the two-point conversion attempt to protect the lead.

The ensuing onside kick was recovered by CDO, which went into Victory Formation thereafter.

The victory for the Dorados (7-0, 2-0 in the 4A Kino) will likely put them in the Open Division rankings on Tuesday and will probably move them to No. 2 in the 4A ratings behind No. 1 Yuma Catholic, which beat No. 6 Buckeye Union 45-17 on the road on Friday night.

The loss for No. 2 Mica Mountain (6-1, 1-1) snapped an 11-game winning streak, dating to last year when the Thunderbolts beat CDO for the region title, and also gave Nugent his first loss in four games against Peace.

“Going against Coach Nugent you know you’re going to have a well-coached football team, and you know it’s never over,” said Peace, who played for Nugent at Flowing Wells and later was on Nugent’s coaching staff at CDO. “It kind of lived up to that close game that we thought it was going to be.”

The opening possessions of both teams gave an indication the game would be a grinder.

Mica Mountain drove from its 20-yard line to the CDO 21 in 11 plays but turned the ball over on downs.

CDO proceeded to drive 79 yards in 14 plays — a possession that started with 8:23 left in the first quarter to only 34.7 seconds remaining — capped by Kayden Luke’s 4-yard scoring run.

The teams traded possessions before Thoreson engineered an 83-yard scoring possession that included completing all four passing attempts for 65 yards. His 10-yard touchdown pass to Jack Bradley cut the lead to 7-6 with 4:03 left in the half.

“As a team, we’re there, we know what we want and we know how to do it,” said Thoreson, whose three years of experience at Mica Mountain mirrors the length of the program’s existence.

Thoreson completed 15 of 24 pass attempts for 202 yards with two touchdowns.

Woodard, highly athletic at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, blocked the extra-point attempt for Mica Mountain after Thoreson’s touchdown pass to Bradley, keeping CDO ahead in a game that proved every point was precious.

Woodard’s sack that foiled the late two-point try and the blocked extra point saved the Dorados three points and proved to be the difference.

“Man, there are so many feelings running through my body; that was a very emotional game,” Woodard said. “Vengeance (after last year’s loss to Mica Mountain). We had a lot on our slate. We’ve been preparing since we took the ‘L’ last year.

“For me to get a moment and opportunity to make a play, it feels surreal.”

A turning point in the game occurred late in the third quarter when Mica Mountain’s leading rusher and dynamic tackler Kason Colbert exited with an apparent head injury. Colbert, whose status for Friday’s game against Sahuaro for Homecoming is undetermined, finished with 12 rushes for 48 yards.

The Thunderbolts drove to CDO 30 when the injury occurred. Thoreson completed a 16-yard pass to Josiah Thornwell to set up a 23-yard field goal by Landon Hubbard with 18.2 seconds left in the third quarter.

CDO tried to loosen Mica Mountain’s defense in the next possession with a successful trick play — quarterback Tristan McClelland passing backwards to receiver Chase Laux, who then passed to a wide-open Chance Cassell for the 46-yard gain to the Mica Mountain 25.

“I’m not a trick-play kind of guy and you just kind of have that one tucked away and sometimes you never use it all year,” Peace said. “We thought we’d use it on a second-and-1. It worked out. It kind of opened up the game a little bit and got us to where we need to be.”

The possession ended with a 21-yard field goal made by Reece Douglas with 8:26 left to give CDO a 10-9 lead.

After Mica Mountain was forced to punt — which went only 15 yards to the Thunderbolt 47 — CDO put together a touchdown-scoring drive that was highlighted by McClelland’s 32-yard pass to Ryan Madsen on a third-and-10 play.

Luke, who had 27 carries for 151 yards, scored two plays later on a 14-yard run to give CDO a 17-9 lead with 3:23 remaining.

His description of playing in a game of high magnitude is reflective of his bulldozing style of running at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds:

“It really challenged us. We met the task head on and ran it over.”

Thoreson was sacked by Grant Young on Mica Mountain’s first play of its last possession, but he then completed four straight passes, two of them to Bradley for 58 yards.

Bradley finished with four catches for 83 yards and teammate Jonah Garcia had five receptions for 70 yards.

Thoreson’s 32-yard pass to Bradley gave Mica Mountain a first down at the CDO 13. Four plays later, he connected with Leon for the 3-yard score with 32.6 seconds left.

Woodard’s sack on the two-point try afterward and CDO recovering the onside kick sealed the game.

“It’s a great high school football game and not every team goes undefeated,” Nugent said. “Our goal is to go the state playoffs and win a state championship and that’s where we’re at. If we don’t win a league title, that’s okay. We’ve got bigger things to look for.

“I’m proud of our kids. We played hard all night. There wasn’t a turnover in the game. Just two great high school football teams going head to head. Anybody could have won that game tonight. For Dusty and CDO, they ended up pulling ahead.”

Peace said he told his players “thanks” for the opportunity to finally beat his mentor.

“If I had to live my life 0-4 (against Nugent) … Every time we’d go golfing or something, I couldn’t say anything else no matter if we had state championships or not,” Peace said with a smile.

The teams could very well meet again in the state playoffs, perhaps in the state championship game, next month.

CDO plays its last regular-season road game on Friday at Pueblo.

Mica Mountain and CDO still must play No. 11 Walden Grove, which is 5-2 and 2-0 in the 4A Kino. The Thunderbolts host the Red Wolves on Oct. 27 and the Dorados host them to conclude the regular season Nov. 3.

Both games will be Senior Night for Mica Mountain and CDO. The Thunderbolts have 26 seniors and the Dorados have 29.


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.

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