Play started out strong between two of Tucson’s powerhouses on Thursday night, with both teams fighting to take control in what was billed as one of the top high school football matchups of the season.
Cienega and Salpointe Catholic entered Friday night’s game with 5-0 records, but it was host Cienega that secured the 30-20 victory over Salpointe.
“We’re obviously really disappointed (Salpointe sophomore running back Bijan Robinson) didn’t play, we wanted Salpointe to be at their fullest,” Cienega coach Patrick Nugent said. “That’s a great program, a great team and we wanted to play a great game. Our kids did.”
Playing without its dynamic running back tandem of Robinson and junior Mario Padilla due to injuries, Salpointe (5-1) opened the scoring on a 33-yard field goal with 7:07 left in the first quarter.
The Lancers held the lead for all of two minutes before Cienega senior quarterback and UA commit Jamarye Joiner scored a 1-yard touchdown with 5:01 left in the opening quarter to give the Bobcats a 7-3 lead.
Joiner ended the game with 94 passing yards, 47 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.
Cienega (6-0) added a 35-yard field goal just 20 seconds into the second quarter to add to its lead, before scoring its second touchdown of the half with eight minutes left until halftime.
Junior running back Thomas Webb Jr. pushed in a 1-yard rush to give his team a 17-3 lead over the Lancers with 7:51 remaining in the half.
Salpointe answered with a 25-yard field goal with 3:11 left in the second quarter to send the teams into the locker room with Cienega’s lead cut to 17-6.
Play got chippy late in the second quarter, with players from both teams drawing personal fouls and having to be separated, something Joiner said his team expected.
“We came into this game knowing it was going to be a tough game, a hard-fought game and knowing it was on TV,” Joiner said. “We still played like we needed to pull out the victory.”
Sophomore defensive back and wide receiver Lathan Ransom broke the second-half kickoff for 69 yards and put the Lancers within the Cienega red zone right off the bat.
About one minute later, sophomore athlete Shamon Davis took the ball 8 yards through the heart of the Cienega defense for the score, cutting the Bobcat lead to 17-13 with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
Cienega’s next possession resulted in a punt after a quick three-and-out, firmly putting control of the momentum in the hands of the Lancers.
However, that’s when things started to turn south for Salpointe, as the team fumbled that punt and Cienega took over deep within Lancer territory.
“We really came out and executed what we needed to do and capitalized on their mistakes.” Joiner said.
Luckily for Salpointe, the defense stepped up on Cienega’s next possession and forced Joiner to fumble away possession less than 10 yards away from the end zone.
Salpointe saw its drive stall and was forced to punt with 1:40 left in the third quarter.
Cienega junior wide receiver Terrell Hayward took the punt 70 yards to the house, giving his team the momentum back and adding to the lead in one stroke.
“Terrell Hayward is a special athlete,” Nugent said. “He ran for a punt that really broke their steam a little bit.”
The Bobcats added another score with 10:28 left in the fourth quarter on a 34-yard touchdown pass just one play after picking off Salpointe senior quarterback Rodrigo Nieto.
Salpointe would go on to add another touchdown with 3:59 left, but it was too little, too late as the Bobcats ran out the clock to secure the victory.
After the game, Nugent said the victory adds validation for his team going forward.
“We just beat the No. 1 team in 4A so that was a big (to find out) are we good enough to play with the big boys?” Nugent said. “We haven’t had the best competition the last four weeks so this was a big test for us.
“Salpointe is a great team and we’ve proven that we can play with anyone in the state.”