2023 High School Football

No. 2 CDO defeats No. 3 Mica Mountain, advances to 4A state championship

Behind a stout defensive performance and powerful running game led by bulldozer Kayden Luke, No. 2 Canyon del Oro is headed to the 4A state title game.

The Dorados (13-0) defeated No. 3 Mica Mountain 23-7 on Friday night at Dorado Stadium on a night when Luke eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing for the season and the Thunderbolts were limited to 15 yards rushing overall because of six sacks.

“A lot of pressure with these being two Tucson teams,” CDO coach Dustin Peace said. “Yeah, 13-0 and our motto is, ‘It is Monday yet?’ We’re so grateful to have an another opportunity to get back on the practice field.

“We get to spend another week with our football family; these guys are close.”

CDO will play No. 1 Yuma Catholic (13-0) in the championship at Arizona State’s Mountain America Stadium next Friday. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.

Yuma Catholic defeated visiting Phoenix Arcadia 42-7 in the other semifinal.

Luke rushed for 169 yards on 32 carries with three touchdowns against the Thunderbolts, whose defense limited Snowflake and Northwest Christian to a combined 246 yards rushing in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The rushing of the 5-foot-11 and 220-pound Luke — who constantly required a gang of tacklers to stop him — was enough to make CDO overcome completing only one pass all night, which did not occur until the fourth quarter.

The Dorados are in the state championship game for the first time since 2010, when they lost to Scottsdale Saguaro.

CDO last won a state championship in 2009 when the Dorados capped a 14-0 season behind future NFL players Ka’Deem Carey and Blake Martinez with a 40-0 win over Sabino.

That was Peace’s first season as head coach after replacing Pat Nugent — now Mica Mountain’s coach — after Nugent left to coach Pima College’s program.

“We’re one hell of team,” said Luke, who has rushed for 2,086 yards on 253 carries with 27 touchdowns. “Our guys come together. There’s a saying coach (Peace) always says, ‘Good teams are led by coaches and great teams are led by players.’

“We are for sure led by the greatest coaching staff in the state and I can’t thank them enough.”

Chase Laux’s eighth interception of the season was the first of many significant defensive plays in the game.

“This is amazing, for us, we’ve been playing together since we were 9 years old (in Tucson Youth Football),” Laux said. “To see all that work build and this team come together. Now we’re going to the state championship, a chance to bring back another state title for CDO, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Laux’s 58-yard return set up a 21-yard field goal by Reece Douglas that gave CDO a 3-0 lead with 4:05 left in the first quarter.

Two possessions later, Mica Mountain scored its lone touchdown on a 48-yard screen pass from Jayden Thoreson to tight end Jimmy Leon with 11:46 remaining in the second quarter.

A strip-sack by CDO defensive end Evan Greer was the next big defensive play for the Dorados.

Greer also recovered the fumble from the sack at the Mica Mountain 21 with 4:50 left in half.

That led to a 6-yard touchdown run by Luke with 2:54 remaining before halftime, giving CDO a 10-7 lead.

“We’ve been resilient all year long,” Peace said of his defense. “We were able to dial in what our defense does well — get after their quarterback, get some interceptions. We had a lot of good things going on.

“We were able to rush three all night and get so much pressure.”

The next significant defensive play was Aaron Ramirez’s interception and return of 50 yards to the Mica Mountain 9 that set up another Luke score, a 1-yard run with 8:46 left in the third quarter to increase the lead to 17-7.

Mica Mountain’s next five possessions included two three-and-outs and three turnover on downs.

Luke capped the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown run with 6:38 remaining.

One of Mica Mountain’s standouts was punter Riley Carson, who had punts of 72 and 66 yards.

Thoreson finished with 186 yards passing while completing 17 of 33 passes.

Nugent, who reached the state title game with CDO in 2007, will try again to achieve his first championship next season with Thoreson and other standouts such as Leon, defensive lineman Jaysen Criswell and running back Conner Hangartner returning for their senior seasons.

Mica Mountain, which opened its doors in the 2020-21 school year, is only in its second full year at the varsity level.

They are not only scratching the surface, they’re tearing through it.

“Any time you take your kids to a state semifinal, it’s a great year,” Nugent said. “It’s a brand new school. Who would have thought we’d be here? We really thought we had a chance to win this things but CDO was phenomenal tonight.

“Their defense was beyond anything I thought they could be tonight. They really changed up some things. We couldn’t run the ball. We had a tough time throwing the ball. It’s a combination of a lot of things but their defense just dominated the game.”


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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