The Gila River Hawks are 3-0 on the season following a 43-26 win over the Maricopa Mustangs on the road in Glendale Saturday night. It was an explosive start to the game for the Hawks, opening things up with Bashu Delco taking it to the house on the kickoff. That set the tone for the rest of the night, as Maricopa worked to dig themselves out of an early seven-point deficit.
“It definitely gave us momentum right off the bat,” Angel Ruiz said. “We just knew it was our game, and at that point we just knew we needed to really dial in and just do our job and everything was going to work out.”
Things didn’t get easier, as just two plays later, a high snap to quarterback Keegan Stancato caused a fumble, resulting in a safety. Maricopa’s defense came out strong, though, with an interception to prevent the Hawks from scoring again.
It was a small victory, though, as the offense fumbled on the following drive, giving the ball back to the Hawks without putting any points on the board. Gila River capitalized on the opportunity, with quarterback Rhett Ricedorff finding Ruiz for a 15-yard touchdown. The kick was good, putting Gila River up 16-0 with 5:43 left in the first.
Maricopa’s offense was able to find a bit of a rhythm at this point, and Stancato was able to find one of his receivers in the end zone for a touchdown. The kick was good, making it 16-7 with 2:37 remaining.
Gila River was able to add one more touchdown before the half on a 65-yard pass from Ricedorff to Shawn Charles. The Hawks went for two but couldn’t convert, making it 22-7 Gila River with just under 14 minutes left in the second.
Both defensive fronts looked tough in the second quarter, forcing punts and coming up with tackles for losses. They even traded back to back interceptions, in which Randy Robinson secured his first interception of his college career.
“They make plays when they need to,” Coach Ryan Felker said in regards to the defense.
However, Maricopa’s defense was hungry to put points on the board, and came up with another interception, this one by Rodney Rogers, who ran it back for a touchdown just before the half.
“We didn’t expect them to come out and just pass the whole time, but on our defense, nobody’s selfish and everyone’s ready for a change when it’s needed,” Gila River Hawks linebacker Zach Kriens said, who had quite a few big tackles on the night.
Coming back out, both team’s defenses continued to create struggles for each other. Gila River’s special teams unit was able to partially block a punt, giving the Hawks excellent field position. Kendrick Lurry ran it in for an 11-yard touchdown for the first points of the second half with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter. The kick was good, making it 29-13.
Maricopa answered with a touchdown of its own on the first snap of the fourth quarter, but couldn’t convert on a two-point attempt, making it 29-19 with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Gila River was able to find a bit more of a rhythm and move the ball down the field, setting up running back Michael Jamerson for a touchdown. The kick was good, allowing the Hawks to extend the lead to 36-19.
Maricopa’s offense attempted to rally with another touchdown to make it 36-26 with 2:11 remaining, but a pick-six by Solomon Buchanan with less than a minute left sealed the deal for the Hawks.
“It was just something we worked on every day in practice, you know, we’ve got a really good DB coach, he played in the league, and he just put me in a really good position to make the play,” Buchanan said.
“It definitely shows you who’s going to make the big plays and step up when they need to,” Ruiz said.
Next week, the Hawks will face the Papago Pumas at Westwood High School next week in hopes of remaining 4-0, while the Mustangs will prepare to face the Sonoran Sidewinders.