High school football
Tucson's prep football season loaded with memories despite somber ending
High school football came to a somber end last weekend as Tucson was left without a state champion for the second time in the last three years, with Catalina Foothills and Sabino both losing in their title games.
Although things didn’t finish on a high note, there are still plenty from the last 15 weeks to look back upon and smile.
The memorable 2016 season featured two programs snapping longstanding losing streaks against neighborhood rivals, another earning its first playoff victory in 33 years and a certain local power returning to dominance with a perfect regular season. That’s just to name a few.
Here’s a look back at 10 highlights from this fall, starting with a historic early-season showdown:
Tucson High ends 22-game skid with win over Salpointe
The date: Sept. 9
The location: Salpointe Catholic High School
What happened: The Badgers beat neighborhood rival Salpointe for the first time since 1993. Senior quarterback Jorge Flores completed 11 of 24 passes for 202 yard and connected with fellow seniors Tyree Pierson and D.J. Hinton for touchdowns in the 14-3 win, helping Tucson High put an end to a 22-game skid in the series. The biggest performance of the night may have come from Tucson’s defense, which forced five fumbles, limited Salpointe to 209 yards of offense and came up with a huge goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter.
Quotable: “It’s a big win. It’s been the monkey on our back for a long time. These kids came out tonight and did a tremendous job. It wasn’t the prettiest game and there was a lot of things we’ve got to clean up but these guys performed.” – Tucson High coach Justin Argraves
Rincon’s Grigsby produces record-breaking outing
The date: Sept. 9
The location: Rincon/University High School
What happened: Rincon/University senior running back Ty Grigsby accounted for almost 350 yards off offense and scored a state-record eight touchdowns to lead the Rangers to a 56-34 win against visiting Sierra Vista Buena. The victory snapped Rincon’s 10-game losing streak dating back to the 2015 season. Grigsby gained 290 yards rushing on 25 carries and scored seven touchdowns on the ground. He also caught a 55-yard touchdown pass.
Quotable: "He's such a good athlete. It wasn't one of those games like you're running up the score. At one point, we were like, 'How many touchdowns does he have?' We might as well give it to him." – Rincon/University coach Cody House to The Arizona Republic
Desert View beats Sunnyside for first time since 1989
The date: Sept. 23
The location: Desert View High School
What happened: Senior running back Alex Courtemanche rushed for a game-high 242 yards and three touchdowns to power Desert View to a 42-20 win on homecoming night, keeping the Jaguars unbeaten and giving the Jaguars their first win against district rival Sunnyside since 1989. This marked just the second time Desert View beat Sunnyside, with the Blue Devils winning each of the last nine meetings. The two teams didn’t play between 1994 and 2011 but the Blue Devils grew into of the state’s elite programs in that span, while Desert View posted just three winning seasons and had one playoff appearance.
Quotable: “I’m not a big fan of Sunnyside myself so I wanted to punch the ball in another time just to make them feel that much worse. It wasn’t until after that final whistle blew and the clock stopped that it finally set in that we beat Sunnyside. We made history.” – Courtemanche
Amphi wins regional crown, gets back to state playoffs
The date: Oct. 28
The location: Amphitheater High School
What happened: Amphi completed one of the most memorable turnarounds after going winless in 2015. The Panthers topped visiting Pueblo 24-17 on the final night of the regular season to secure the 4A Gila regional championship and earn their first state playoff berth since 2010. Senior running back Carlos Valarezo rushed for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter and Amphi’s defense shut out the Warriors the rest of the way. With the victory, the Panthers finished the regular season 8-2 with both losses coming against fellow playoff teams, Canyon del Oro and Flowing Wells. Valarezo was one of the driving factors to Amphi’s success, as he finished the season with 1,543 yards rushing and receiving and scored 25 touchdowns.
Quotable: “We noticed they were hanging out with each other in the summer and were behaving like a unit. They started coming to practice more and they started to listen.” – Amphi coach Jorge Mendivil to AZPreps365.com
Cienega completes 10-0 perfect regular season
The date: Oct. 28
The location: Mountain View High School
What happened: Jamarye Joiner and top-ranked Cienega rallied from an early deficit to cap off a perfect regular season by holding on for a 43-28 win at Mountain View, locking up the No. 1 seed in the 5A state playoffs. It marked just the second time the Bobcats have posted a 10-0 record and the first time since 2011, when the program made it all the way to the Division II state championship game. Cienega advanced to the state semifinals before falling to defending state champion Peoria Centennial. Joiner, who is verbally committed to play for the Arizona Wildcats, finished the season as the team’s top rusher and passer with 762 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and 1,713 yards and 17 scores through the air.
Quotable: “A lot of people dream of being 10-0. These kids have worked their tails off. There’s only a few teams who can say they’re 10-0; it’s just a great honor, a great reward for everybody who has been a part of this program.” – Cienega coach Pat Nugent
Marana notches first postseason win since 1983
The date: Nov. 4
The location: Marana High School
What happened: Senior quarterback Connor Leavens pioneered a game-winning drive and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 29.9 seconds to play, lifting Marana to a dramatic 28-21 win over Glendale Kellis in the first round of the 5A state playoffs, for its first postseason victory in more than three decades. The seventh-seeded Tigers were in the state playoffs for the first time since 2007 and jumped out to an early 14-0 lead against No. 10 Kellis but fell into a 21-21 tie late in the fourth quarter, to set up the memorable finish.
Quotable: "We talk about it to the kids, when everybody is rowing on the same direction, pretty special things happen. That really happened tonight because our community has been working toward this goal for five years, since I've been a part of it, and it's pretty cool to see." – Marana coach Andy Litten
Salpointe routs Marcos de Niza, reaches state semifinals
The date: Nov. 10
The location: Salpointe Catholic High School
What happened: Sophomore running back Mario Padilla had another big game and fourth-seeded Salpointe rolled past No. 5 Tempe Marcos de Niza for a 48-6 win in the 4A state quarterfinals. Padilla led a strong ground attack with 212 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries while the Lancers finished with 352 yards rushing as a team. Meanwhile, freshman Bijan Robinson had eight carries for 99 yards and a score in addition to hauling in a 44-yard touchdown reception. Salpointe’s defense also shut down one of the state’s most prolific passers to help the Lancers reach the state semifinals for the third time in the last five seasons.
Quotable: “What I’m excited about is we’re back to a Salpointe attitude. The culture around here is back to the way it should be. We have great kids, who are wonderful teammates and that's really what it's about. That's truly why I think we're successful." – Salpointe coach Dennis Bene
Sabino logs quarterfinal shutout in final home game
The date: Nov. 12
The location: Sabino High School
What happened: Fifth-seeded Sabino cruised to a 48-0 win against No. 13 Winslow in the 3A state quarterfinals and the final home game for seniors and longtime coach Jay Campos. Senior athlete Drew Dixon, who is committed to play for Arizona, hauled in seven catches for 138 yards and two scores, on top of throwing a pair of touchdown passes while junior quarterback Alex Bell completed 18 of 30 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. The victory pushed Sabino’s winning streak to seven games and capped off an unbeaten season at home, sending Campos and his seniors out on a high note. Campos, who took over the program in 2003, is stepping down after the season to focus on his administrative duties as an assistant principal at the school.
Quotable: “You never know when it’s going to come to an end. If this was the last one, it’s a great way to go out.” – Campos
Catalina Foothills breaks through to first state title game
The date: Nov. 18
The location: Gilbert Williams Field High School
What happened: Rhett Rodriguez came up with the best performance of his career and helped send Catalina Foothills on to its first state championship appearance. The senior quarterback and son of UA football coach Rich Rodriguez accounted for seven touchdowns as the sixth-seeded Falcons knocked off No. 2 Gilbert Higley 62-37 in the 4A state semifinals. Rodriguez, who is committed to play for his father next year, completed 17 of 22 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to rushing 19 times for 69 yards and three touchdowns. A week earlier, Rodriguez had a hand in four touchdowns to help rally Foothills to a come-from-behind win in the quarterfinals at third-seeded Peoria Sunrise Mountain.
Quotable: “The offense was really clicking. It’s easy when you’ve got great teammates like this. I just know that I have to do my job, whether that’s running the ball, throwing the ball, making checks or making sure everyone knows what they’re doing. If I just do my job and everyone else does their job, things like this happen.” – Rodriguez to The Arizona Republic