Nogales tops Rio Rico

Nogales tops Rio Rico
Posted on 09/23/2021
Nogales tops Rio Rico

Via Nogales International

Friday night football returned to Nogales for the first time in two seasons, filling Apache Stadium once again with all the spectacle, action and electricity of the cherished high school sports tradition.

Making the occasion even more special, last Friday’s game pitted the host NHS Apaches against their intra-county rivals, the Rio Rico Hawks, which meant double the marching bands, cheerleading squads and jam-packed student sections to amp up the excitement.

The game itself was a bit erratic, with both teams shaking off rust and piling up penalties in between the highlights. But in the end, Nogales maintained the upper hand from start to finish and closed out the night celebrating a 16-0 win.

“I’ve got to say, it’s like nothing else,” NHS junior back Benji Ley said of the experience. “The student section was amazing, Rio Rico was saying some pretty funny stuff, too. But it was a really good time. It was definitely unforgettable.”

Playing in his first varsity game, Ley got the Apaches on the scoreboard two-and-a-half minutes into the game with a four-yard touchdown run set up by junior Arturo Alvarez’s 33-yard carry.

A minute later, Ley recovered a fumble that gave the ball back to Nogales at the Rio Rico 36-yard line, and he followed that up with a 15-yard rushing gain. But after moving the ball to the RRHS 12, a bad snap and a sack derailed the Apaches’ drive.

The Hawks offense drove to the Nogales 31 early in the second quarter, but a fumble ended that threat. Then with 1:22 left in the half, NHS sophomore Daniel Molina intercepted a pass at his own one-yard line, and the Apaches ran out the clock to take a 6-0 lead into halftime.

“I’ve got to give our defense credit, they played hard,” RRHS coach Kevin Kuhm said after the game. “We put them in bad situations in the first half – two, three short fields. They gave up one touchdown, they kept us in the game.

“But offensively, we couldn’t get anything going,” he said. “We couldn’t get any movement up front to run the ball and we couldn’t throw the ball.”

Nearly five minutes into the second half, senior Alex Armendariz of Nogales dove onto the goal line while being brought down at the end of a 10-yard run, giving NHS a 12-0 advantage. A two-point conversion by Omar Sanchez made it 14-0.

The Apaches added two more points in the fourth quarter on a safety. And when senior Gabe Badilla intercepted a Hawk pass at the Nogales 23 with 3:39 left in the game, the NHS student section began to chant “Start the buses!” to the visitors.

Nogales ran for 257 yards in the game, led by Ley with 87 yards on eight carries. Alvarez had 86 yards on 11 attempts. Quarterback Ferny Valenzuela completed three of eight passes for 91 yards, and also carried the ball six times for 57 yards.

On defense, NHS senior Samuel Martinez had 11 total tackles – two solo and nine assists. Junior Esteban Acevedo recorded a sack and three tackles for losses, while Badilla tallied seven total tackles – three for losses – to go with his interception. Ley had four solo tackles and two assists, as well as a fumble recovery.

Nogales coach Jake Teyechea praised the unselfish play that he said is characteristic of this year’s team.

“When you get a bunch of high school kids together, there’s a bunch of different types of egos and everybody wants the ball and this and that – nah. These guys are about the team, about the program,” he said.

“I couldn’t ask for a better way to win than just running our system,” Teyechea said. “We didn’t come out here intending to put up a hundo or anything like that. We just did what we do, and it worked out. So I’m very happy.”

Back in action

A year ago, NHS had to wait until Sept. 28 to begin football practice, due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Then when two student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19, the Apaches were forced to cancel their home opener and first road game and go into a 14-day, no-practice quarantine.

They returned to practice two days prior to a scheduled Nov. 13 game in Tucson, but another positive case sent the team back into quarantine for 14 days and cost them both the Tucson contest and a home game against Rio Rico on Nov. 20.

NHS still had two more games on their schedule at that point. But two days before their second quarantine was set to end, a rapid rise in COVID-19 infections in Southern Arizona resulted in a falling domino chain of cancellations, and the NHS season was over before it started.

That meant last Friday’s game was the first at Apache Stadium since October 2019.

“It took a while, I’m not going to lie, but it was a really good time,” Ley said.

He noted the team’s up-and-down performance and battles with leg cramps as things to improve on going forward. And Coach Teyechea acknowledged that penalty flags were a problem.

“For every flag, there might be a little running,” he said. “But I’m going to put that on the jitters in the kids – it’s almost been two years since we played.”

Teyechea was enthusiastic about the ambience that accompanied his team’s return to competitive action.

“Our band director is doing such a great job with a small group of kids, and they sound like there’s a thousand of them,” he said. “And our fans, the community, we just want to give them something to be excited about, to be able to watch their kids play, to make some good memories for them. And you know what, I’ll say it: There’s no better crowd than the Nogales crowd. When we come out, we come out.”

Time to regroup

Rio Rico managed to play three games in 2020, going 1-2. But they suffered a slight disappointment to begin the 2021 campaign when renovations to their stadium weren’t completed in time for the start of the season. That meant Friday’s game, which was originally scheduled to be played in Rio Rico, had to be moved to Nogales.

The Hawks offense picked up only 70 yards on the night – 43 rushing and 27 passing. Junior quarterback Andres Lopez managed to complete six of eight pass attempts, and he also led the team with 18 rushing yards. Omar Rodriguez had four receptions.

“We’ve got to regroup and get better,” Coach Kuhm said of the offense.

On the defensive side, junior Jose Bustamante had six tackles (three solo and three assists), junior Jesse Octavio-Callejo recorded a sack and senior Ruben Encinas caused a fumble.

Asked for his overall takeaway from the game, Kuhm said: “We didn’t play very well.” But he added some praise for the defense, and noted that the Hawks have some promising young players. (Rio Rico won last Thursday’s junior varsity game against Nogales, 8-6.)

Rio Rico next plays on Friday, Sept. 17 at Walden Grove in Sahuarita. They’ll play three more games on the road after that as they wait for the stadium renovations to be completed. Their first home contest is now set for Oct. 29 against Catalina Foothills.

Kuhm said the Hawks are looking forward to getting through the first half of the season. “Then we get a bye week and then we’ll be into Gila Region, which I think is going to be a very competitive region for us,” he said, referring to the region in the 4A Conference that includes Rio Rico, Amphitheater, Douglas, Empire and Catalina Foothills.

Nogales, part of the 5A Conference Sonoran Region, next plays on Friday, Sept. 17 at Cholla in Tucson. They return home to take on Gilbert on Sept. 24 starting at 7 p.m.

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