A game-winning field goal from No. 9 Blue Ridge that put the Yellowjackets up 20-17 with 11 seconds remaining ended the season for No. 8 Pusch Ridge in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
Pusch Ridge led most of the second half before going down 17-14 midway through the fourth quarter.
The Lions drove the ball to the Blue Ridge 27-yard line and set up a successful 44-yard field goal from junior kicker Tyler Nolan that tied the game at 17 with two minutes to go.
“Our quarterback, Bubba (Bubba Mustain), who is just a tremendous athlete and competitor, was hobbled; he was basically playing one leg on that last drive,” Push Ridge head coach Kent Middleton said. “He was moving as well as he could, and he extended some plays, and we had some great catches. That was kind of a synopsis of our season. We were kind of battered and bruised but still clawing, and clawing and clawing.”
On the following possession for Blue Ridge, a deep pass from Luke Berlin to David Simmons on 4th-and-13 got the Yellowjackets to the 17-yard line, setting up the eventual game-winning 34-yard field goal by Jacob Booth.
Following a scoreless first quarter, Pusch Ridge held a 7-3 lead at halftime.
The Lions were up 14-10 late in the third quarter when a 30-yard run from Pusch Ridge senior quarterback Mustain got the Lions within the Blue Ridge 5-yard line, but a fumble recovery a few plays later by Blue Ridge on a pitch from Mustain to junior running back Jacob Newborn changed the momentum of the game.
Blue Ridge took a 17-14 lead off a 15-yard touchdown pass from Berlin to Jace Barton with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
For Mustain — who had two touchdown passes at quarterback and two interceptions at linebacker — the heartbreaking loss brought a close to a three-year run in the varsity program for the two-way standout senior captain.
He was the top receiving target for the Lions as a freshman with 64 catches for 876 yards and 11 touchdowns, and was one of the most prolific passing quarterbacks in the state last year, passing for 2,637 yards while completing 165 of 257 passing attempts with 30 touchdowns.
“All the people that I’ve met, all the lessons that I’ve learned, it’s been a hell of a ride, and just the way these people treated me, the way that the coaches treated me, the way the players treated me, just the love that they had for me. I’m going to remember that forever,” he said.
Mustain credits Middleton and the Pusch Ridge coaching staff for teaching him to be a better leader.
“Control what I can control and lead the ways that I can. Don’t go boss people around, but lead by example kind of thing, and if I’m willing to do it, then other people will follow me,” Mustain said of what he has taken out of his time in the program.
Middleton praised Mustain’s impact on the program and believes he has the talent to play at the next level.
When Middleton looks back on the season, he still recognizes the success the Lions had following a significant roster turnover from the previous season and several injuries this season.
“We made the playoffs. That was a big goal of ours,” he said. “We had lost a lot of seniors last year with a really, really good football team. Guys really stepped up this year and stepped in, and then we had guys that stepped in for guys that stepped up and stepped in.”
The fourth-year head coach at Pusch Ridge, who has gone 34-11 with the Lions after coaching as an assistant for nearly 30 years in Southern Arizona, put the loss into perspective just minutes after the last whistle.
“Sports can be brutal, but the sun will rise tomorrow, and there’s a lot worse things in the world than losing a football game,” he said.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.