Homecoming can be as distracting as it is motivating for a football team. It turned out to be both for Maricopa High School Friday night, as the varsity took down Ironwood 37-22 in its first 5A Metro competition.
The Rams’ defense appeared shaky early against the Eagles’ passing game, with missed assignments leading to touchdowns and vulnerable open-field tackling prolonging Ironwood’s momentum at times. Maricopa did not allow that to define the evening, however.
“It’s all fixable things,” Maricopa head coach Chris McDonald said.
The coach would have preferred not have the tight score of the third quarter against a team with only one win. Considering the disruptions inherent in Homecoming week and some internal conflict, he said the Rams maintained their composure well.
Maricopa scored first on a field goal from Sam Aviles. It was the start of a personally fruitful night for the senior kicker.
But Ironwood quickly answered with a touchdown on a 38-yard pass from Mason Nguyen to Dustin Hoffarth. That initiated back-and-forth scoring.
Ram junior Cameron Sanders ran in from the 12 yard line and Aviles kicked the extra point to put Maricopa up 10-7. Hoffarth took another pass from Nguyen from Ironwood’s own 33 to take a 14-10 lead.
Aviles scored three more points on a field goal with 5:06 left in the half, and the Rams trailed the Eagles 14-13. The Maricopa defense forced a fumble on the kickoff return, setting up Aviles for his third field goal to give the Rams a 16-14 lead. They never trailed again.
At the beginning of the second half, sophomore Jathan Washington ran the ball back 61 yards for a touchdown followed by an Aviles kick to widen the lead to 23-14.
Ironwood crawled back with a rushing touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion and was just one point behind with 5:47 left in the third quarter.
In front a boisterous Homecoming crowd, the Rams’ defense dug in to stop the Eagles the rest of the game.
After a fumble recovery and a run down to the 5 yard line, Sanders carried the ball in for another touchdown. Aviles kicked the PAT, and Maricopa had a 30-22 lead.
Washington scored again from the Maricopa 33 with 2:01 left in the game to complete the scoring.
It was not a pretty win in McDonald’s estimation, but he was happy to take it.
“I just wanted to see us play a cleaner game of football, especially defensively.” McDonald said. “We still have not put a full football game together where offense, defense and special teams play to best of their ability. It seems like every game it’s one or the other, which I guess can be a good thing, too, because we’re 4-2 and we still haven’t played good football yet.”
Washington led the Rams’ rushing with 104 yards on 13 carries. Sanders carried the ball nine times for 53 yards. Senior Kenny Oliver caught four passes for 67 yards and sophomore Jacob Cowing had six receptions for 66 yards. Senior quarterback Zachary Bachelder passed for 139 yards.
Aviles scored 13 points for Maricopa with his foot.
The Rams next play at Apollo High School (2-4) in Glendale Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. in more section play.