The Sahuarita Mustangs finished its final road trip to the north with a 28-26 win over the San Tan Sabercats on Friday night. SHS is now 2-2 in games played north of Tucson. They lost to Santa Cruz Valley and Coolidge before picking up back-to-back road wins over Holbrook and San Tan.
Friday night’s game became a true struggle for the Mustangs in the second half. Sahuarita took a 20-6 lead to the locker room with them during the mid-game intermission. During the second half they watched as San Tan picked away at the lead, with the Sabercats tying the score at 20-20 with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter.
The Sahuarita coaching staff found the spark needed to reignite the Mustangs when senior linebacker Michael Molio’o was called on to step in on the offensive side of the ball. A determined Molio’o ripped through the middle of the Sabercat defense with back-to-back runs of 15 and 10 yards to the San Tan 14-yard line. With Molio’o attacking the center, Cristian Gonzales worked the edges and scored from there and he also picked up the two-point conversion to make the score 28-20 with 4:40 left on the clock.
“Michael showed what leadership is all about. He showed coolness during adversity. He rose up through the chaos and showed leadership and he led from the front,” Coach Don Watt said. “Michael not only ran four determined runs when we needed them, he had 20 tackles and four tackles for loss. We had a lot of great effort from a lot players Friday night.”
One minute and 29 seconds later, senior defensive back Osten Sherry picked off a Sabercat pass and returned the ball up the sideline. One official put both arms in the air signaling Mustang touchdown. After a long conference near the goal line, the score was waved off due to a penalty flag on SHS and the ball was placed at the San Tan 42-yard line. Three plays later, senior quarterback Orlando Williams crossed the goal line from 23 yards out. This score was also waved off, SHS penalty.
With 1:13 left in the game, the Mustangs handed the ball to San Tan on downs at the Sabercat 29-yard line.
With four incomplete passes, two of which were broken up by Sherry, and two more SHS penalties, the Sabercats found themselves at the Sahuarita six-yard line, from which they scored. Trailing 28-26, San Tan lined up for the two-point conversion and the possible second tie of the game, which would have sent the game into overtime. The Mustang goal line defense kept this from happening. Final Score 28-26 with 13 ticks remaining on the clock.
Sahuarita was penalized 17 times for 155 yards. Ten flags for 110 yards of that came in the second half alone.
“We sort of shot ourselves in the foot tonight,” Watt told the team after the game. Always one to praise the other team, he continued, “That was a pretty darn good team you played tonight wasn’t it? Now you have to ask yourself, are you as good as you think you are? Are you happy with your efforts? I am glad we got out of here with the win tonight.”
Following the game Watt said, “Our defense won this game. That defensive stand on their two-point conversion that would have tied the game with only seconds remaining was the 'burn the boats' moment I have been waiting on all season. Our boys were in that, ‘We live or we die in this game right now,’ and they shut them down right there.”
Watt, who has called the last two games from atop the stands, said he turned to coach Brian Brown, who was with him on the top of the press box, and said, “Call victory formation and let’s get out of here.”
“I had to turn away because I was crying after that effort,” he said.
As for the officiating, Watt said that in every high school football game there are three teams on the field. The two teams playing and the officials, and he can only control one of the teams.
“I can’t worry about bad calls during the game. After the game I can look at the worthy penalties and we can work on them at that point,” Watt said. “In the past I have worked as a football official and I know yelling at an official has never changed a call. I have never heard an official say, ‘Your yelling was so loud, or so good, that I am going to pick up this flag. Never mind.’’’
The head coach also said his back problems are not the reason for his recent move from the sidelines to his lofty perch during games.
“I have decided that it better serves the team for me to have a bird’s-eye view. I am away from the fog of warfare and can better analyze and make adjustments during the game. Plus, I have a great bunch coaches on the side lines that I know I can depend on.”
The first half of the game had been business as usual for the Mustangs.
San Tan scored first and took a six-point lead early. On the next series, Sahuarita struck back when senior Bryce Williams slashed and dashed through the Sabercat defense for 72 yards and the go-ahead touchdown 8-6 with a successful two-point conversion.
Junior Anthony Giarraputo extended the Mustang lead 14-6, following an interception of a San Tan pass by Tanner-James Friend. Freshman Brady Radovich wrapped up Mustang scoring in the first half with four-yard carry, 20-6 to end the first half.
The Mustangs have one more road trip ahead of them this week. They will travel to Safford to start Region 3A South competition. The Bulldogs are 3-2 as well, defeating Florence on Friday night, 40-0. This game will match No. 1 Bulldogs versus No. 2 Mustangs.
“We need to focus on the target," Watt said of Friday. "It is going to be a formidable test to beat Safford at their house. Right now, Safford is the highest-scoring team in the conference. They are like us, they run the ball a lot and our defense will need to shut down their running attack. The other coaches and I have decided on some changes starting on Monday.”