VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen

Cienega High quarterback Jimmy Monaco (left) is chased down by Sunnyside's Matt Berrellez (36) during last night's 4A state playoff game. Sunnyside beat Cienega 21-20 at Desert View High.


Second-year team Cienega falls short

It's a shame someone had to lose.

In a hard-fought football game, upstart Cienega High School fell just yards short of an upset in a 21-20 loss to Sunnyside in a first-round Class 4A state playoff game last night at Desert View High.

After scoring on a 2-yard keeper by quarterback Jimmy Monaco with 17 seconds left in the game, Cienega, trailing by one, faced a tough decision. Go for the win or play for overtime?

In their first state game, the Bobcats went for the win. But a run to the right off a fake kick by Sergio Velasco was stopped at the 3-yard line.

"We went for the win at the end, and I'd do it again," said Cienega coach Nemer Hassey. "I didn't want to go to overtime with them because we were so beat up and we were just holding on by a thread.

"I'm proud of our guys. We're a second-year program, and we just took Sunnyside to the wire."

For the Blue Devils, who want to regain the state title they won two years ago, it was a serious wake-up call.

"(Cienega) played an excellent game. We made a few errors, and I'm sure they feel they made a few errors," said Sunnyside coach Richard Sanchez. "But the bottom line is, there's no more power points involved. It's win one and advance.

"I'm not very happy with our performance, but we'll take the win and see if we can improve."

No. 5 Sunnyside (9-2) will host No. 13 Cottonwood Mingus on Friday in a semifinal game.

The Blue Devils wouldn't have won last night without running back Xavier Smith.

He finished with 230 yards rushing on 18 carries and reached the end zone twice.

With the game knotted at 14 in the fourth quarter, No. 11-seed Cienega saw a 34-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Monaco to Maurice Wells called back on the team's sole penalty of the game.

That Cienega drive ended when Monaco was sacked for a loss of 16 yards on fourth down, handing the ball to Sunnyside.

Smith stepped up, breaking free for a 81-yard touchdown that would be the winning score.

"I've got to give it to my line for the yards I got today, and I hope they bring it up next week," Smith said. "We need to pick it up if we want to win a championship."

Cienega's defense shut down the Blue Devils' passing game, holding quarterback Jaime Cota to 4-of-13 passing for 32 yards.

Meanwhile, it was Cienega's passing that kept the game close. Monaco, who had 146 yards on 11-of-18 passes, was solid all game.

He ran for a 48-yard touchdown scramble before the half, then completed a two-point conversion pass to Roger Velasco to send the teams to the locker room tied at 14-14.

Cienega's Brandon Lopez, a running back/linebacker who has orally committed to the University of Arizona, finished with 118 rushing yards on 32 carries and a touchdown.

"I'm sad because we could have won that game," Hassey said. "But I'm just so proud of our guys. They set the tone for Cienega football for years to come. I'm very sad that it's over, because they are a great team."