December 7, 2003
Photos by Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star
Counting on Cota: Sunnyside quarterback Jaime
Cota tries to shake free from Jonathan Murillo of Glendale
Cactus in the second quarter of the Class 4A state
championship game at Sun Devil Stadium.
Satisfaction: Members of the Sunnyside
football team hold aloft their trophy.
Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star
Gaining strength: Sunnyside's George Garza
collects his thoughts before the start of the second half
against Glendale Cactus.
Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star
Heap of trouble: Glendale Cactus
running back Nigel Ricks finds himself surrounded by
Blue Devils in the first quarter of Saturday's Class
4A state championship game at Sun Devil Stadium.
Sunnyside concludes a magical season with state
By Brian J. Pedersen
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
TEMPE - What is the magic formula for the success of the
Sunnyside High School football team?
With two state titles in three years to draw from,
apparently the Blue Devils' secret is to lose early and win
Sunnyside beat Glendale Cactus 21-13 Saturday at Sun Devil
Stadium for the Class 4A state championship. It capped a
season in which the Blue Devils lost their first two games -
and looked bad in doing so - but when it counted at the end,
there was no better team.
"I schedule those teams on purpose so we can find out
what our weaknesses are," said Sunnyside coach Richard
Sanchez, whose 2001 state championship squad also was beaten
handily in its season opener. "They exposed (our
weaknesses), so we just had to go back and work on them."
Sunnyside (12-2) won its 12th straight game thanks to a
blend of timely plays on offense, a bend-but-don't-break
defense, and just the right amount of luck.
"They were programmed all week that this was going to
be a war," Sanchez said.
Whereas Sunnyside was playing in the 4A final for the third
time in four years, Cactus (12-2) was making its first state
final appearance since 1987.
But the Cobras in no way looked awed by the big-game,
big-stadium atmosphere. They opened with a 13-play, 78-yard
drive to take a 7-0 lead on quarterback Bubba Bradley's 4-yard
Sunnyside drove to the Cactus 23 on its first drive, but
turned the ball over on downs. The Cobras went right back down
the field with a 15-play drive to go up 10-0 on Bradley's
32-yard field goal with 10:28 left in the first half.
The Blue Devils again drove deep into Cactus territory, but
their effort ended when Mike
Villalobos' halfback pass was
intercepted just short of the end zone by Nick Childs.
It took until 1:54 remained in the first half, the longest
Sunnyside had gone into a game this season without scoring,
for the Blue Devils to get on the board.
That came on a 17-yard pass from
Jaime Cota to Villalobos,
a perfectly floated ball over two Cobra defenders, to make it
Cota, who finished with 158 yards on 12-of-18 passing,
carried Sunnyside early while junior tailback Xavier Smith
struggled to find his rhythm.
"(Cota) did a hell of a job," Cactus coach Larry
It was Smith, though, who put the Devils ahead for good
when he broke off a 32-yard run on the Devils' first
possession of the third quarter. It gave Sunnyside a 14-10
And Smith's 50-yard run in the final minutes set up another
score to seal the victory.
"I knew my line would step up for me," said
Smith, who finished with 120 yards for his 11th straight
100-yard game. "They did their jobs. I did my job. I
didn't care about the yards."
Said offensive coordinator Glenn Posey: "We knew he'd
make the plays."
Sunnyside's defense toughened after that, stuffing the
Cobras in the red zone on their next two possessions. The
second of those drives resulted in a 22-yard field goal by
Bradley to narrow the gap to 14-13 with 5:29 left.
After Smith's 1-yard TD run with 1:28 left made it 21-13,
Cactus dinked and dunked its way down the field without any
time--outs, arriving at the Sunnyside's 39 with 20 seconds
Bradley then found a wide-open Kevin Marin in the end zone
for an apparent score with 11 seconds to go, but the TD was
waived off after it was determined that Bradley had released
his pass beyond the line of scrimmage.
"I was standing over here and I said, 'Oh (no), they
let somebody behind them,' " Sanchez said afterward.
"We haven't had many breaks this year."
Alex Valencia then clinched the game with a sack of Bradley
near midfield as time expired.
As fate would have it, a more experienced and talented
Sunnyside team fell short of the title last year, losing to
eventual champion Scottsdale Chaparral in the semifinals.
Gone were half the starters from that 12-1 team, many of
whom were on hand Saturday to lend their support.
"They said to us, 'you guys have got to redeem us,'
" senior defensive end Ruben Leyva said. "This feels