2023 High School Football

HS FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Sunnyside & Desert View Duel in the District a playoff in itself

Sunnyside’s Samario Garcia calls the play to the offense (Gilbert Alcaraz/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

Other games were of note on Friday in town, including 3A playoff games involving Sabino and Pusch Ridge and Tanque Verde’s first home postseason game in the program’s 19-year history in the 2A playoffs. CDO and Mica Mountain demanded attention putting the finishing touches on seasons to remember — the Dorados finished the regular season unbeaten for the first time since 2010 and Mica Mountain is 9-1 in only its second full season as a varsity program. I decided to attend a game involving a Sunnyside team that was 4-5 going against a 3-6 Desert View team at Jaguar Stadium. It was a no-brainer. Sunnyside vs. Desert View — the Duel in the District — is what’s good about local high school football. It exudes community. It is a showcase game no matter the records of the teams — how many other situations does that occur in Southern Arizona? …

Douglas-Bisbee, from Southeast Arizona mining towns, is a must-watch rivalry that is one of the longest in the nation, spanning 153 games. That’s one. … Sabino and Sahuaro share an intense rivalry on the eastside that will become more competitive again once Al Alexander gets the Cougars’ program rolling. Ryan McBrayer has coached his alma mater to four straight victories over Sahuaro. That’s another … One more is The Battle of the Boot — Marana vs. Mountain View — which has thankfully returned after a six-year hiatus because of tensions running too high among their fan bases. … CDO-Mica Mountain is brewing as one of the top local rivalries, especially if they remain in the same region, but the Thunderbolts opened their doors only three years ago, in the 2020-21 school year. … Cholla vs. Pueblo brings with it a lot of pride in South Tucson. That’s a special one annually although the programs have experienced struggles in recently years. … The luster has worn off the once vibrant rivalries of Sunnyside-Amphi and CDO-Amphi. Cienega and Marana had a brief run as a hot rivalry with Jamarye Joiner and Trenton Bourguet as their quarterbacks, respectively. … Used to be any team playing longtime schools Tucson High and Salpointe considered that a rivalry game but both have been isolated in 6A playing mostly Phoenix-area teams in recent years. Thankfully, Tucson has returned to facing mostly Southern Arizona teams in the last couple of years after moving to 5A. …

Sunnyside vs. Desert View will stand the test of time because they are only three miles apart and they are the only high schools in the Sunnyside Unified School District. Even more than that, they are a beacon for the Southside community led by two widely respected head coaches — Sunnyside’s Thomas Romack and Desert View’s Robert Bonillas. Much like rivalries in college, Sunnyside-Desert VIew carries significance beyond the football field. A strong sense of pride of trying to one-up the other exists. That would be the case if each team entered the game with 0-9 records. “We come into this game like forget the records; it’s just about us. All we care about is us,” said Sunnyside senior cornerback/wide receiver Anthony Martinez, who had two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a touchdown reception in the Blue Devils’ 35-14 victory over Desert View. “We just want to be the best. We want to be the best team in SUSD and have kids come to the program and make it better.” … Samario Garcia, a senior running back/safety, completed his career against Desert View rushing for 161 yards on 10 carries, including touchdown bursts of 56 and 76 yards, running out of the Wildcat formation. “This is the first time scoring against Desert View in varsity — it feels great, man,” Garcia said. “It feels great to beat the rival in the district. Hopefully, we can get some studs to come over to Sunnyside.” …


The series between Desert View and Sunnyside in football (home team in CAPS). The schools did not play between 1995 and 2010 because of being in different regions and classifications. The 2023 game is the first time both schools ended the regular season against each other. Sunnyside leads the series 16-5.
* Game at Kino North Stadium.
1985SUNNYSIDE51Desert View 0
1986Sunnyside 40DESERT VIEW7
1987SUNNYSIDE14Desert View13
1988SUNNYSIDE23Desert View 12
1989DESERT VIEW19Sunnyside 0
1990SUNNYSIDE21Desert View0
1991Sunnyside 14DESERT VIEW6
1992SUNNYSIDE18Desert VIew16
1993Sunnyside34DESERT VIEW0
1994SUNNYSIDE39Desert View0
2011SUNNYSIDE49Desert View0
2012Sunnyside42DESERT VIEW6
2013SUNNYSIDE34Desert View27
2014Sunnyside53DESERT VIEW0
2016DESERT VIEW42Sunnyside20
2017Desert View10SUNNYSIDE 7
2018*Sunnyside20Desert View13
2019DESERT VIEW 20Sunnyside 6
2021Desert View29SUNNYSIDE21
2022*Sunnyside 16Desert View 6
2023Sunnyside35DESERT VIEW 14

Romack has won the first two games against Desert View since becoming the head coach last season after Glenn Posey resigned. He was the Blue Devils’ defensive coordinator before that and endured part of a stretch in which the Jaguars won four of five games against Sunnyside from 2016 to 2021. With Martinez and Garcia offering recruiting pitches to middle school students to come to Sunnyside after Friday’s win over Desert View, it is obvious Romack has instilled a sense of pride within the program with his players. He recently met individually with every single one of his freshmen and sophomores to explain to them what he looks for in a player and what they mean to the high school and community. One freshman player told me he was near tears after listening to Romack, a former Class of 2013 Buena graduate who went on to play linebacker for Pima College in 2013 and 2014 before playing at Dakota State in 2015 and 2016. While playing at Pima, he struck a friendship with Posey, who was on the Aztecs’ staff at the time. When Posey returned to his alma mater in 2019 to be the head coach, he brought Romack with him to be his defensive coordinator. … Romack on the Blue Devils: “We went 5-5 this year. We beat good teams. We lost to good teams. We didn’t win a state championship, which is our goal every year, but like I told them, I’ll go toe-to-toe with anybody in the country in terms of the type of character and men our kids come on to be. We’re making our community better by the way we coach our kids, how we coach our kids and the things we emphasize. Sunnyside is the spot to be.” … Carrying on the theme of family and community that Romack is trying to present to his players, his father Edward was in the midst of the celebration on the field Friday night. Before being interviewed, Thomas said, “That’s my dad over there; he may laugh at me when I’m getting interviewed.” I told him, “It’s more like he’s smiling at you with pride.” …

Tanque Verde’s Gavin Gilbert is one of the top running backs and linebackers in the state (Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

With the regular season coming to a close in for 4A-6A teams on Friday night, some of the most notable coaching performances Southern Arizona in addition to Romack include:

— CDO’s Dustin Peace, Mica Mountain’s Pat Nugent, Walden Grove’s Corey Noble, Tanque Verde’s Jeff Bollnow, McBrayer, Thatcher’s Daniel Jones, Morenci’s Rishard Davis — coaching teams that can make a deep run in the postseason in their respective conferences.

— Ironwood Ridge’s Dale Stott, coached his team from a 1-9 record to 8-2 and likely spot in the state tournament).

— Tucson’s first-year coach Zach Neveleff, won last four games after starting 1-5.

— Marana’s Phillip Steward, won four of last five games to capture the 5A Southern championship.

— Amphi’s Jorge Mendivil, Panthers went 2-8 last year to a 4A Gila championship with a 7-3 record this year).

— Douglas’ Hunter Long, Bulldogs won four of last five games to give him his first winning season at his alma mater at 6-4 after starting his coaching career in 2019).

— Empire’s George Kelly, ended season with a five-game winning streak to finish 6-4).

— Tombstone’s Dominic Bonilla, coached the once-dormant Yellow Jacket program to an 8-3 record and playoff berth).

— Willcox coach Eric Hjalmarson, led the Cowboys to a 2A San Pedro title despite losing two 1,000-yard rushers from last season and starting 0-3. Willcox won six of seven games after that start.

— Cholla’s Virgil Henderson, who led his program to four victories, the most in a season since 2017.

— Catalina’s Greg McKinstry, three victories also the most since 2017.

— San Manuel’s Ernie Ivy, coached the Miners to their first region title in more than 20 years.

— Baboquivari first-year coach Cody Garcia, took the Warriors to their first playoff appearance since 2001.

— Mountain View’s Matt Johnson, whose team finished 4-6 but consider this — nearly 10 of his starters were lost for significant amount of games including his first-, second- and third-string quarterbacks with season-ending injuries. “Never seen anything like it. Ever,” Johnson stated. “But we keep fighting.”

Bollnow’s defense continued to be very impressive in Friday’s 24-0 victory over visiting Parker in a 2A first round game. These are the point totals the Hawks have allowed opponents since they lost 48-7 at San Tan Charter in the second week of the season: 0, 6, 0, 0, 7, 8, 3, 6 and 0. That’s a total of four touchdowns allowed and 30 points in the last nine games, an incredible 3.3 points given up a game. Unreal. The defense is led by linebacker Gavin Gilbert, who led Southern Arizona 2A-6A schools with 105 tackles entering Friday. He also was the third-best running back locally with 1,262 yards. Gilbert is not the biggest player physically, listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, but he is as powerful as any player in the state pound-for-pound. He undergoes a training regimen set by his father, who has an extensive military background. On top of that, Gilbert has the kind of character any coach would love to have as a captain. Gilbert is a legitimate player of the year candidate in 2A who could hold his own in any classification. …


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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