Mountain Ridge falls in heart-breaker - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Mountain Ridge falls in heart-breaker

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Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2007 12:29 am | Updated: 6:55 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions football team came out throwing haymakers in the first half of Friday's season opener. An 86 yard touchdown pass to Giorgio Giurdanella on a perfectly executed screen pass on their first play from scrimmage put Sunnyside, last year's 5A Div-II state runners-up, in a 7-0 hole before they knew what hit them. Two series later it would be the Mountain Lions running back jabbing the Blue Devils again, this time on a quick swing pass out of the backfield from junior quarterback Kevin Yost. Giurdanella, who also stars on the track team, would go 53-yards on this one to make the score 14-0. After losing 19-3 in last year's season opener to the Blue Devils the Mountain Lions were making quite an impression in the rematch. "They came ready to play and those two plays really woke us up," Sunnyside Richard Sanchez said. "We got ourselves lined up wrong on both of those plays, some mental mistakes that you can't have, and they made us pay. But you have to give a lot of credit to their back. He has some serious speed." The team from Tucson also would get hit with power as UCLA bound kicker Jeff Locke helped the Mountain Lions respond when Sunnyside cut it to 14-7 in the second quarter. With a breeze at his back Locke, a lefty, drilled a state-record breaking 63-yard field goal that had plenty to spare. But Sunnyside didn't win three state titles or finish as state runners-up three other times under Sanchez without showing the ability to take a punch. Showing a strong jaw and championship resilience the Blue Devils would overcome a 20-7 halftime deficit to pull out a 21-20 victory as they shutout Mountain Ridge in the second half. "I'm proud of our players," second year Mountain Ridge coach Bobby Green said. "We did a lot of good things, but to beat a team like Sunnyside you've got to be able to be consistent for four quarters. We weren't able to do that." After Mountain Ridge scored on four of their six first half possessions the Sunnyside defense clamped down in the second half. After throwing for 186 yards on 10-of-19 passing in the first half Yost saw the Blue Devils bring the Mountain Ridge short passing game to a crawl. And it was both the offense and the defense of Sunnyside that earned the credit for blanking the Mountain Lions after the halftime break. Not only did the defense limit the Mountain Ridge passing attack to 2-of-5 for 43 yards after the break, but the Blue Devils ball-control offense kept the football out of the hands of the home team as Mountain Ridge only had the ball three times, just 14 plays from scrimmage in the second half. Meanwhile Sunnyside would find some offensive rhythm against a stingy Mountain Ridge defense in the game's final 24 minutes. Going into the game Green talked about the team's need to gang tackle against Sunnyside's star running back Jovan Stevenson. While they did that for the majority of the game Stevenson would make his presence felt. After setting up his team's first score with a 75 yard scamper on a draw play in the first half Stevenson would break loose on Sunnyside's second possession of the second half. On a 2nd-and-2 from the 28-yard line the senior took a swing pass from senior quarterback Jamie Valdez, turned a couple Mountain Ridge defenders around with a series of fakes before racing 71 yards down to the Mountain Ridge 1. Only a great effort by junior Brad Williams kept it from being a touchdown. The visitors from Tucson would score the very next play on a sneak by Valdez cutting the deficit to 20-14. "We've faced adversity before, so we know not to panic," said Stevenson of the mood at halftime facing a 20-7 deficit. "We have a lot of new faces on the team this year, but they all put in a lot of work this summer to get ready for this season. We believed we'd have a chance to win in the fourth quarter." They would do exactly that. The game winning drive would begin on their own 20-yard line. After running the final two plays of the third quarter the Blue Devils would march 80 yards in 13 plays, a drive that would consume 7:32. Mountain Ridge had its chances to turn Sunnyside back but Sunnyside converted a 4th-and-inches from the Mountain Ridge 24 to keep the drive alive. Three plays later they would face a 4th-and-10 from the 20 with less than six minutes remaining in the game. Dropping back to pass Valdez surveyed the field and found a wide open Emilio Luna in the left corner of the end zone. When the extra point was good Sunnyside claimed their first lead of the night. With the new state record-holding kicker waiting on the sidelines the Mountain Lions were never able to give Locke a chance to win the game. After Giordanello gained one first down, getting his team out to midfield on a 29 yard pass reception and run from Yost, Mountain Ridge's offense stalled. Forced to punt with 3:50 remaining the Mountain Lions would never see the ball again as Sunnyside converted a 4th-and-inches from their own 42 as Valdez, with a second and third effort closed out the Mountain Lions hope with a quarterback sneak. Sanchez said he never considered punting and giving Locke and the Mountain Lions one more chance. "We'd seen all we wanted to of him, plus our long snapper had gotten injured earlier in the game so I didn't feel real comfortable putting all that pressure on our backup," the veteran coach explained. "And then the third thing that went into that equation is the belief I have in our offensive line. They worked very hard in the summer knowing that it will pay off in those kind of situations." After the game Locke, whose previous career long had been 48 yards, reflected on the mixed feeling of his record-breaking kick coming in a losing effort. His kick broke an 18-year old mark set by current Centennial offensive coordinator Kyle Pooler, who held the record with a 62-yarder during his prep career at Cactus High School. "It's something I'll remember for sure, but I know I got a little help from the wind," he said. "We were ready to send the punt unit out when coach noticed the flag blowing and that we could take advantage of it. I knew I hit it well enough distance-wise it was just a matter of the direction, but it was good enough." The Mountain Ridge senior said his team will bounce back. "It's a disappointing, tough loss, but I think we played pretty well," he said. "Our goals are much greater than this one game and I think we'll learn from it and get better." Mountain Ridge will try and get its first win on the road Sept. 7 at Cesar Chavez High School.

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