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*Note: This write up was delayed in order to clarify quotes made by coaching staffs and players during post game interviews
Speaking to many Sunnyside (1-1) faithful before last night’s home game against Pueblo (1-1), one couldn’t help but get a sense that Blue Devil Nation felt robbed a week prior when they lost a heartbreaker at Nogales. Many who were in attendance claim the referee missed a clear fumble call that would have sealed a victory in Sunnyside’s season opener. According to members of the Blue Devils sideline, a complaint was filed during the week with the Arizona Interscholastic Association regarding the missed call. To which, the AIA acknowledged and apologized.
Too little too late. The loss still stands.
Coach Brandon Sanders’ Pueblo Warriors throttled Rincon (0-2) that same night. Of their wishbone/triple option scheme, Sanders said, “We got it established and on track last week.” Sanders did acknowledge coaching errors on his part that needed to be cleaned up going into last night’s game with Sunnyside but he still believed it was going to a hard-nosed battle.
“We’re coming into a place where championships are known,” Sanders said acknowledging Sunnyside’s state title past. “Sunnyside is no joke. They’re going to hit hard. They’ve got some tough nosed kids. They’re going to be tough tonight. We first have to take care of the ball, know our assignments. We have to be very serious and focused. They’re going to be tough tonight.”
Coach Roy Lopez was getting ready to take the field in his second game as the head coach at Sunnyside. Pueblo was his home debut. Lopez acknowledged much of the same points Sanders made.
“We really have to play great defense and control the ball. They’re pretty athletic. We match up really well with them. They really took it to Rincon last week. They run the ball really well and we’re excited to see if we have an answer for that. I learned they’re style of offense at St. Mary’s (Phoenix) back in 1993-1994. So I’m familiar with the style of offense they run.”
From the opening kick, it seemed as if playing disciplined football and placing a premium on taking care of the ball was completely forgotten.
Pueblo received the opening kick and was assessed a personal foul for unnecessary roughness when a blocker, toward the middle of the field, completely crushed a Blue Devil almost a full second after the play had been blown dead.
From then on, the rest of the night saw plenty of yellow flags flying all over the field. On both sides.
Turnovers galore. On both sides.
After the final whistle blew, both head coaches described it as a night of terrific defense. Those of us in the media patrolling the sidelines were leaning more toward describing it as a night of terrible offensive execution.
Two touchdowns were scored all night. One for each team. Though neither were a direct result of offensive productivity. Pueblo made its first pass attempt as the clock ran out on the first quarter that went directly to a Blue Devil player. Sunnyside themselves threw for 4 INTs. I didn’t get the final fumbles tally.
Scoreless. Turnovers and flags throughout.
Sunnyside scored early in the second quarter after Pueblo fumbled on their own side of the 50-yard line. The Blue Devils were able to get the ball within field goal range and get on the board first.
Pueblo 0 Sunnyside 3 (Brian Chumacera, 25 yard FG)
As the clock was winding down on the first half, Sunnyside was able to establish the only rhythm we saw all night from either offense. The Blue Devils faked a punt with 30 seconds to go in the half and converted. Sunnyside was able to drive all the way down to the red zone and with time winding down, threw an interception. Pueblo took a knee to end the half.
Going into the locker room at the half Coach Sanders expressed his frustration with the lack of offensive execution but we pleased with his defense.
“Defense is out there fighting. But I don’t think we’re efficient on offense and they’re taking it to us. We just got to keep fighting. It wasn’t going to be easy, man! I told you that in the beginning. This is what it’s all about! We’ll make adjustments and see what goes on in the second half,” Sanders said excitedly. “Our guys are making plays. We just have to start making them on offense.”
Coming out of the halftime locker room, Coach Lopez expressed almost the exact same sentiments. Pleased with his defense, concern over the lack of offensive production.
“Like I said before the game, we knew we’d have to play great defense. We’re just not really efficient, you know, we really have to execute better on the offensive side of the ball.”
Pueblo scored the first touchdown midway through the third quarter after Sunnyside fumbled the ball inside their own ten. The Warriors recovered on the Blue Devil 5-yard line. Two plays later, Pueblo scored on a HB dive over the top. The ensuing extra point attempt was blocked.
Pueblo 6 Sunnyside 3 (William Bertsch, 1-yard TD run)
Sunnyside took advantage of another Pueblo fumble on the Warrior 31 yard line and looked to take the lead, when they took a shot to the end zone a few plays later, only to have that pass intercepted as well.
Pueblo linebacker AJ Saldivar suffered an injury midway through the third. From my observation, he had been the most vocal Warrior all night.
Sunnyside tried taking yet another shot downfield. Pueblo intercepted the pass, yet again 40 yards down field and began trying to run the clock down. After a series of 4 consecutive false starts by the Warriors, they found themselves backed up and on a 4 & 20 with 2:29 to go in the game. Coach Sanders sent in the Warrior punt team.
If there was one play all night that Pueblo needed to execute flawlessly, this was it.
A bad snap sent the Warrior punter scrambling to make something happen but Sunnyside was able to cover up the loose ball on the Pueblo 15. On the very next play, Sunnyside ran a misdirection to the strong side of the field and took it to the house, taking the lead.
Pueblo 6 Sunnyside 10 (Joey Hernandez 15-yard run, Chumacera extra point)
Sanders told Daniel Gaona of TucsonSentinel.com, “All we needed to do was punt the ball and it would have been over.”
After speaking with his team, Sanders spoke with me saying, “Taking care of the ball bit us. We had golden opportunities. Our defense played outstanding. They kept us in the game. It just wasn’t our night. A lot of things happened. Take nothing from (Sunnyside). They killed our run game. They hit us in the mouth like they’re supposed to.”
Coach Lopez also made himself available for my questioning while celebrating his very first win as the head of Sunnyside’s program with his family. In a game riddled with penalties, turnovers and miscues, he gave all the credit for the victory to his players and coaches.
“You know, the resiliency of Sunnyside football has always been, ‘fight to the end.’ Finally, things bounced our way. We need to get more efficient on offense or we’re going to have a long season. We’re just not able to establish any type of run. Our defense was unbelievable. The heart! They completely personify their defensive coaches. Coach Holmes, Coach Trejo, Coach Zamora. They’re just resilient.”
One team was able to maintain composer when things didn’t work their way.
The other, broke down steadily during the course of the game.
It came down to who could withstand the pressure of a pure scratch and claw game.
Sunnyside maintained their discipline and focus throughout the chaos and when game plans seemingly went out the window. Pueblo seemed to me to unravel once Saldivar, a leader, went down with his injury. When I talked to the Pueblo linebacker, he spoke with me pretty candidly and it was easy to understand why his leadership was missed.
“We were humbled. If you exalt you’re going to get humbled. If you humble yourself, you’ll be exalted. We had player of the week and had plays of the week (by local media recognition the week before) and we got big headed. We got to stay humble. Going into the bye week, we have to focus on maintaining our composure. We can’t have our heads down when we get hit in the mouth. We need to get back up and hit back.”
Jose Roman Jr. was born a Wildcat fan, lifetime fanhood was solidified when he was able to meet Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Brandon Sanders, Chuck Levy and Ontiwaun Carter as a sixth grader. Having served 10 years in the armed forces and been deployed all over the world, he’s still managed to make it to every Arizona home football game, bowl game and at least one away game for the last 12 years. Now combining his love of writing with his love of all things sports, Jose is proud and honored to join AllSportsTucson.com as a writer.