In a turnover-filled Friday night in Vail, Cienega used a big fourth quarter to avoid falling to its first losing season in school history for another week with a 42-21 win over Sunnyside.
Furthermore for the Bobcats (2-5), it keeps their slim playoff hopes alive with three games left in what has been a disappointing season. Sunnyside fell to 4-3.
Both teams were plagued by turnovers with four each. However, a resurgent Cienega defense, coming off a heartbreaking 63-60 loss to Sierra Vista Buena last week, was able to hold a potent Sunnyside rushing attack to just 163 yards — 105 yards below its season average.
Cienega’s first play on offense was a 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Adriell Alvarado to Terrence Johnson, who sprinted untouched down the sideline and into the end zone.
Shortly after that, Sunnyside fumbled the ball on its first possession. It was scooped up by Cienega’s Christian Poe, who took it in for another Bobcats touchdown.
The game was tied at 21 entering the fourth quarter. However, a 21-point run by Cienega, sparked by an interception return for a touchdown by junior defensive back Tre Stewart-Ruiz, helped the Bobcats seal the win.
Cienega also received help with the healthy return of running back Christian Nash, who rushed for 107 yards on 14 carries. Alvarado praised Nash for his work running the football.
“With him, we’ve scored 60 and 42 points,” Alvarado said. “Without him, we were averaging less than 21. He’s been a big part of our success.”
Cienega coach Nemer Hassey was proud of the way his team has responded to its early-season struggles against a challenging schedule, with opponents who were a combined 27-13.
“We were coming into this game 1-5, and we could be pointing fingers,” Hassey said. “Instead, the kids have shown a lot of character, even though we have a tough schedule. I’m proud of them.”
With the win. Cienega is still in the hunt for a playoff spot despite its record.
The Bobcats, who are ranked 29th in the Division II seedings, host Nogales next week and close out the season with games at Desert View and Sahuaro. Sixteen teams earn playoff berths. Winning all three games could be enough to squeeze Cienega into the playoffs for the 11th straight season.
Alvarado believes his team is still very much in contention.
“We’re not going to lay down and quit,” he said. “Even if we get a 16th seed and have to play a 1 seed, we’ll do it. We just have to keep working.”