Before Thursday night, the Sahuaro and Tucson high school football teams hadn’t met since 2004.
It was worth the wait.
The visiting Cougars jumped out to a 10-0 lead early but had to rally late to beat the Badgers 31-28 in one of two games as part of the Coaches for Charity Kickoff Classic.
In the classic’s other game Thursday, host Sahuarita cruised past Walden Grove 27-10.
Nothing, however, came easy for the Cougars and Badgers, who both had seven wins last season.
“Those kids scrapped and played real hard,” Sahuaro coach Scott McKee said. “We were just able and fortunate to find one play in the end to win it.”
Sahuaro’s Adrian Ramos pulled down Tucson quarterback Donovan Moore near the scrimmage line with fourth-and-goal at the 6 in the final minute to secure the win.
“Honestly it wasn’t even me,” Ramos said. “My D-tackles stuffed the inside and made the ball go to the outside that came to me. So really, if it weren’t for them, that tackle would not have been possible.”
Receiver Cole Sterns was the star of the night for Sahuaro (1-0), which fell behind 28-24 with 6:58 left in the fourth quarter when Tucson sophomore running back Bryce Coleman scored on a 3-yard run a few plays after he turned a short screen on third down into a 48-yard gain.
Sterns answered that score when he caught a 35-yard touchdown pass up the middle from Laramie Brown, with less than four minutes remaining.
“I was happy I caught it obviously but right after I immediately just thought of defense and how we have to suck it up and go out there and stop them in the next drive,” said Sterns, who also caught a 56-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and finished with a game-high 143 yards receiving.
Tucson (0-1) quickly got within scoring range thanks to 44-yard gain by senior Elijah Anderson, who also returned a punt 60 yards for a score as part of the Badgers’ rally in the fourth quarter, but they ended up facing fourth-and-goal with the option to kick a game-tying field goal or go for the win.
Tucson coach Justin Argraves opted to go for the win and was clearly disappointed that it didn’t work.
“With no timeouts right there, the personnel adjustment wasn’t right,” Argraves said. “It was my call, I wanted to go for the win. You want to win every game.”
Argraves had good reason to go for the win, too. Moore had picked apart the Cougars defense throughout the evening, breaking off several long runs and throwing for 309 yards in his debut as quarterback.
“We didn’t do a good job of getting him down early,” McKee said. “That kid is an incredible athlete. I’m happy we got him down in the end though.”