FRANCISCO MEDINA/Tucson Citizen

Sunnyside quarterback Jaime Cota dives for a touchdown in the second quarter on the team's way to a 38-14 win over Salpointe Catholic.

CLASS 5A/4A HIGH SCHOOL CLASH: Red-hot Blue Devils

Defending champs show offensive, defensive power vs. Salpointe

MICHAEL CACCAMISE
Tucson Citizen 

Bragging rights are back in the hands of the Sunnyside High School football team.

The defending Class 4A state champion started its title defense with a 38-14 defeat of 5A power and host Salpointe Catholic in what was dubbed by many as the city championship game.

The win was revenge for Sunnyside because Salpointe beat the Blue Devils 35-10 last year.

"This year, we knew if we wanted to get that perfect season and win the state championship, we knew we had to go through these guys first," Sunnyside quarterback Jaime Cota said. "I'm glad we came out with the victory against them. We lost to them last year, and this is my senior year."

Sunnyside began to take control in the second quarter.

Carlos Encinas began the scoring with a 23-yard field goal for the Blue Devils 5:50 before halftime.

Sunnyside followed up two possessions later with the help of big runs by Cota.

Cota scampered 17, 26 and 5 yards before scrambling another 5 and diving toward the end zone - just getting the ball across with 45 seconds left in the half to make it 10-0.

But it wasn't just the two scores that made the difference in the first half.

Salpointe's offense struggled for consistency under new quarterback Sean Brevaire.

It didn't help that Sunnyside's powerful defense kept penetrating the Lancers' offensive line, forcing bad passes, blocking passes and making sacks.

On offense, Sunnyside's line kept opening holes, allowing Cota to run.

"Jaime's an athlete. He's a runner, he's just an athlete," Sunnyside coach Richard Sanchez said. "I never put emphasis on a 5A game, but I just said, 'Hey, we got to do it.' We put emphasis on this game.

"I told them, hey, this was a big game, and we couldn't lose it. We had to come out and win it."

In the second half, standout running back Xavier Smith began to break loose for the Blue Devils, as did teammate David Morales.

Morales scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter, followed by Smith's 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth that made it 24-0.

On the kickoff after Smith's TD, Sunnyside recovered the ball on the Salpointe 11-yard line as the Lancers seemed to forget it was a live ball.

Cota threw a TD pass on the first play of the possession to Nathan Vega for a 31-0 lead.

Salpointe scored twice in the final minutes, on a 75-yard pass from Brevaire to Evan LeBlanc and a 10-yard run by Nicholas Cole.

Cota added a late touchdown on a 1-yard run.

Smith finished with 157 yards on 20 carries, followed by Cota's 89 yards and Morales' 68, giving Sunnyside 314 rushing yards.

Cota completed 7 of 13 passes for 87 yards.

Salpointe posted 236 total yards, with Brevaire getting 139 yards on 9-of-21 passing.

Except for coverage lapses in the waning minutes, Sunnyside looked every bit like a defending champion.

Salpointe, which lost for the first time in 22 games to a Southern Arizona opponent, looked solid on occasion, but made too many mistakes to win.

"Sometimes you get opportunities and you don't capitalize," Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said. "Usually when that happens you don't win... . It won't be like this long, I promise you that. We'll right the ship.

"We beat them handily last year, and they beat us handily this year," Bene added. "You'd expect closer games.

"We look forward to playing them next year, but they've got bragging rights for a while, and congratulations to them. They played a good game."