Sunnyside's Alfred Leon is sandwiched by Ironwood Ridge defenders on a punt return in the third period of a Class 5A Southern Region game.

KELLY PRESNELL / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Blue Devils keep eye on prize


Sunnyside claims key region victory to move to 8-0
By Sarah Trotto
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.24.2009

Now that his team stands 8-0 after a decisive 35-14 victory over Ironwood Ridge, Sunnyside coach Richard Sanchez says he can't complain.

The host Blue Devils were balanced on offense — finishing with 177 yards rushing and 178 yards in the air — and finalized the scoring on a 62-yard touchdown pass with just over one minute left Friday night.

And after allowing Ironwood Ridge (4-5, 3-2) to score on the opening drive, Sunnyside's defense clamped down and snagged three interceptions.

Then Sanchez found something to dissect.

"Just after that first drive, they came out right away, and for lack of better words, caught us with our pants down," said Sanchez, whose team improved to 4-0 in the 5A Southern Region with two games left. "After that, they started playing well.

"Our kids just had to start playing. I don't know why they didn't start playing at the start, but that's kind of been a trait of ours we're trying to correct."

The Nighthawks, No. 9 in the power ratings, scored their second touchdown with 2:20 left in the game on Adrian Brahler's 2-yard run to cut Sunnyside's lead to 28-14. But the Blue Devils roared back on their next drive, as Perry Shazier found Chris Howard for a 62-yard touchdown pass.

Ironwood Ridge finished with 316 yards.

"Sunnyside's got a great defense," said Nighthawks coach Matt Johnson, whose team started the season 1-4. "They're physical. They're fast.

"They're well-coached and they're going to make adjustments. We had our fingertips on some footballs and were close (on dropped passes), and that's the way it goes."

For Sunnyside, which is No. 5 in power ratings, Shazier completed 10 of 21 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns.

Kevin Harrigan finished with 57 yards on 14 carries and scored a 3-yard run. Manny Vera finished with 53 yards on 14 carries. Alfred Leon caught touchdown passes of 25 and 10 yards. Chris Howard caught a 31-yard scoring pass.

"I'd like to see us play consistently, offensively and defensively," Sanchez said. "To play a complete game. We came out in the third quarter and didn't look as sharp as I would like.

"We don't have one back. If one doesn't get it done, we put in another, so however it's going to get done, it has to get done."

Last year, Ironwood Ridge beat Sunnyside 24-17 in the state quarterfinals.

Sunnyside capitalized on the Nighthawks' mistakes to take a 21-7 lead at halftime. Shazier found Howard for a 31-yard TD for a 21-7 lead with 1:16 left before intermission, after a penalty pushed Sunnyside back 10 yards on the previous play. The Blue Devils started the drive from the Ironwood Ridge 30 after the Nighthawks fumbled the punt snap, recovered, and then threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-three.

Sunnyside went ahead 14-7 with 3:42 left in the half after the Blue Devils had an interception. Shazier hit Leon for a 10-yard touchdown pass.

The Blue Devils tied the game 7-7 on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Leon on their first drive of the game. Leon hauled in the pass between two defenders.

On the opening drive of the game, Ironwood Ridge scored on Brahler's 21-yard touchdown run at 9:58.

Brahler finished with 122 yards rushing on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Austin Ballard had 83 yards receiving.