The Sahuarita High Mustangs lost to the Santa Cruz Valley Dust Devils 34-18 Friday night, but Coach Don Watt didn’t let his team dwell on the loss for long.

Huddling with his team afterward, Watt told his team to shake it off.

“This not the end of the season, this is just start of the season," he said. "This is a character builder; now we get to see how we rebound from this. We have the midnight rule, you get to think about this game or feel bad about until midnight tonight, then it is over.”

Defensive coordinator Anthony Coronado echoed Watt’s comments Friday night.

“This season isn’t over. This is just one game. We have nine more games to go, and maybe more, if you want it, and are you willing to work for it,” Coronado said.

The Dust Devils had been ranked in most preseason polls as one of the top 2A teams in the state. They’ve made the Top Five in most polls and as high as No. 2 in others.

Watt had predicted the game with Santa Cruz would be won or lost in the trenches.

“They are a lot like we are. The game should be won or lost by offensive line play,” he said.

As Watt predicted, the Dust Devils prevailed in the trenches.

Facing a stingy Dust Devil defense, Sahuarita’s three offensive threats, Cristian Gonzales, Bryce Williams and Michael Molio’o were held in check for most of the night. Quarterback Orlando Williams seemed to face a host of red and white Santa Cruz jerseys at every snap of the ball, making options difficult execute.

Gonzales, however picked up 92 of the team’s 170 rushing yards, 49 of the team’s 54 passing yards, and he added an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The senior scored the Mustangs other two touchdowns as well.

A large contingent of Mustang fans, with the bell and the siren in tow, were on hand. While many were disappointed with the outcome, several fans expressed pride in the team, remarking, “They never gave up.”

The game

The Mustangs fumbled the ball on the third play of the opening drive. Five plays later, Santa Cruz tallied the first score of the night at the 8:52 mark of the first quarter, 6-0, with a failed PAT. That lone score would stand until the end of the quarter.

The Mustangs answered in the second period of play with a 12-play drive that culminated with a 24-yard Orlando Williams-to-Gonzales touchdown pass. Score tied 6-6, with failed PAT.

The Dust Devils responded on their next possession when quarterback Austin Hukill broke free for a 47-yard scoring run, moving the score to 12-6, with a failed PAT, that score would stand until halftime.

Santa Cruz opened the second half with a seven-play drive, scoring on a 25- yard pass from Orlando Davis to David Avilez, 18-6, again failed PAT.

Scoring against the Mustangs can be a double-edged sword, the points are no doubt good to have but then the team must kick the ball back to the Mustangs, and that will likely get the ball into the hands of two dangerous runners, Bryce Williams or Gonzales. This time the ball fell into the hands of Gonzales, who carried the ball 83 yards into the Dust Devil endzone. 18-12, failed PAT.

Seven plays later, the Dust Devils added to their lead with an 18-yard TD pass from Arik Padilla to Davis, running up the score to 26-12, with a successful two-point PAT.

Santa Cruz would score again with 1:42 remaining in the third period, with a five-yard run by Avilez, making the score 34-12, after another successful two-point conversion.

Entering the final period, Santa Cruz was again in scoring position making it as close as the SHS eight-yard line. The Dust Devils then fumbled the ball into the Mustang endzone for a touchback, giving SHS the ball at their own 20-yard line. Gonzales picked up 16 yards, followed by Bryce Williams with a 14-yard run. Two plays later Gonzales ran through the Santa Cruz defenders for 43 yards and the final score of the contest, 34-18, with a failed PAT.

"We came out really flat," Watt said looking back at the game Sunday. “I don’t know who, what or why, but we were just flat, so many early errors.”

Watt said he didn’t want to take anything away from the Dust Devils, saying they are a great team that was ready for the Mustangs’ option.

“It was like a heavyweight fight, and they were more physical. We lost at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Watt said. “Last year they may have thrown the ball three or four times, but this year they weren’t afraid to throw it, and as coaches it is our jobs to make the right adjustments, and we didn’t.’’

The Mustangs have this week off and Watt said they had lots to work on and some extra time to do it.

“We did lots of things wrong on both offense and defense. We can nurse a few bumps and bruises and work on what we need to.”

Watt said the boys seemed optimistic following his post-game speech.

“They seemed ready to put this game behind them and move on to the next game,” he said.

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