High school football
Pusch Ridge makes statement vs. Sahaurita
Showdown with Catalina Foothills up next
Tamerat McLeod and Edwin Lovett summed it all up in just 12 seconds.
With Sahuarita trying to mount a second-half comeback, McLeod pulled in a crucial interception in the end zone. Just one play and 12 seconds later, Lovett bolted up the right side for an 80-yard touchdown, letting it be known loud and clear that Pusch Ridge Christian hasn’t gone anywhere.
McLeod rushed for 105 yards and scored four touchdowns as Lovett caught three passes for 144 yards and a score to propel the 2015 Division IV state champions past Sahaurita for a 56-14 victory on Friday night.
Junior quarterback Christian Fetsis was efficient once again – completing 8 of 9 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns – as the Lions pushed their winning streak to three games, with their biggest showdown of the regular season on deck.
“We wanted to come out here and make a statement,” said Fetsis, who passed for 368 yards last week. “We wanted to come out here and shock everyone in Southern Arizona and show them that Pusch Ridge is here to play ball.”
The Lions (3-1) will travel to play at Catalina Foothills on Friday night, with a chance to shock the world once again – just as they did during last year’s memorable postseason run to their first state title.
“We just need to play our game.” Lovett said. “It’s not like we’ve supposed to be shocking the world every single time – we just have to play our game. Our brand of football is tough and physical, and if we get that done, we’ll get it.”
First-year coach Jerry Harris didn’t wait very long after Friday’s win to remind his players about next week’s challenge, which lines up his 3A squad against a 4A heavyweight. Harris hopes to clean up some of the defensive miscues but he was happy to see his offense click on all cylinders and gain 465 yards.
“We really needed this psychologically, we needed this mentally,” Harris said. “We couldn’t afford to come out here and win but not play well. We needed to do both and we needed to be peaking at the right time.”
Lovett set the tone early on Friday night when he returned the opening kickoff 88 yards, deep into Sahaurita territory. Pusch Ridge needed just four plays before McLeod plunged in for his first of three rushing touchdowns in the game.
McLeod made put the Lions ahead 14-0 a little while later when he returned a punt 48 yards for touchdown. And, after the Lions forced Sahuarita’s third punt of the opening quarter, McLeod capped off a 50-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 21-0.
Sahaurita (1-3) made things interesting with a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to make it a 14-point game at halftime. Then the Mustangs drove all the down to the Pusch Ridge 3 to open the third quarter before a turnover on downs gave the Lions the ball.
All it took was eight plays for Fetsis and the Lions to swing the momentum back on their side, with a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior Blake Reilly to cap off the 97-yard drive.
As if that didn’t seal it, McLeod’s interception in the end zone late in the third quarter dealt a deflating blow to the Mustangs. Then Lovett delivered the dagger when pulled in a pass from Fetsis and sprinted up his sideline for an 80-yard score, putting the Lions up 42-14.
“It’s really not a quick-strike play necessarily but they had a little bit of a coverage breakdown so it turned into a quick-strike play,” Harris said. “Anytime you have that kind of momentum swing in high school football, it’s huge.”
The Lions have now won 16 of their last 17 games dating back to last year. The lone loss in that stretch came by four points at Queen Creek American Leadership Academy to open the 2016 season. Since then, however, Pusch Ridge has outscored opponents 118-38.
Even thought Catalina Foothills has scored more than 60 points in each of his last two games, McLeod isn’t overly focused on what the Falcons might do next week.
“We don’t need to bring something new,” McLeod said. “We’ve just got to keep playing our own game and the result is left to our work.”