Playing for coach Jermaine Whitaker’s son who passed away last week, the Tempe Marcos de Niza Padres started slow Friday, but kept fighting, eventually knocking out the Glendale Ironwood 43-7 in a 5A-II showdown at Marcos de Niza High School.
Led by quarterback Zach Schira, who didn’t complete a pass until the second quarter, and a defense that didn’t give up its first points of the season until the fourth quarter, the Padres (2-0) eventually found their groove and scored 36 unanswered points against the Eagles (0-2).
Despite their second blowout win to start the season (they beat Marana Mountain View 55-0 last week) the only thing that mattered after the game was Logan Mitchell Whitaker, coach Whitaker’s six-month-old son who died last Saturday due to complications from birth.
“He passed away the same day my wife’s mother passed away a year ago so it’s been real tough on us,” coach Whitaker said. “We appreciate everything everyone at Marcos has done for us. I’m truly blessed to be here right now.”
“This victory is for coach Whitaker’s son,” head coach Roy Lopez said. “We’re going to have a service to bury him tomorrow, so this is for him.”
Marcos running back Ramon Abreu lifted the Padres spirits, scoring on a 3-yard run toward the end of the first quarter to put his team ahead 7-0.
In the second quarter, Schira finally got into a rhythm, finding tight end Brett Thompson for a 10-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 14-0. On the Padres’ next possession, Schira led an 8-play, 52-yard scoring drive that ended in a 5-yard quarterback sneak. Schira then found wide receiver Justin Rodriguez in the end zone for the two-point conversion to give the Padres a 22-0 lead at the half.
“He’s a smart kid, he kept his composure (after a slow start),” Lopez said of Schira.
Schira picked up in the third quarter right where he left off in the second, finding Thompson again, this time for an 8-yard score that made it 29-0 and, thanks to the excellent Padres defense, put the game out of reach.
“The defense played an incredible game,” Lopez said, “we can build on that.”
The stellar Marcos defense did give up its first points of the season in the fourth, when Ironwood running back Tyrece Pegram punched in a touchdown from 6 yards away to close the gap to 36-7.
“That score was on the special teams,” Lopez said. “We will be making some changes on there.”
Despite the minor blemishes, the night belonged to coach Whitaker, who couldn’t have been prouder of his team’s performance.
“They (the kids) played with a lot of heart for my son,” Whitaker said. “They dedicated this week to me and my son and I’m so proud of them. I appreciate everything they did for me.”