By Adam Wolfe
Maricopa High School was missing several regular starters Friday night against Rincon University High School, but the Rams still managed to blow out the Rangers 56 to 0.
The shutout was in large part due to the stellar job the Rams defense did against the Rangers’ running game. Rincon had only seven first downs throughout the night, and, despite entering the red zone twice, never put any points on the board.
“We knew that if we could shut down No. 2, they would have a hard time throwing the ball on us,” MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald said. “We just mathematically tried to outnumber them in the box.”
The Rams’ offense was without team captain and starting center Nikolai White for the second straight week. White has been bothered by an ankle injury, but hopes to return next week against Apache Junction.
More noticeably, the Rams were missing another key piece of their game plan when starting quarterback and defensive back Aaron Owens didn’t make the trip with the team. McDonald stated they had a “team issue,” but he would not disclose any more information on the matter. It is unclear at this time how long Owens will be absent from the team. Without Owens, the offense didn’t look as crisp as expected for the first quarter.
Senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson Jr. did break away for a 48 yard touchdown run on the team’s first offensive play, and sophomore running back Cameron Sanders followed suit with a rushing touchdown of his own, but a muffed punt return and failed series kept Rincon in the game for the first 12 minutes. Trailing by just 13 points in the second quarter, Rincon drove the ball into the Maricopa red zone.
The Rams defense held strong at the 5-yard line, and the Rangers were forced to attempt a field goal. The kick was blocked and recovered by Johnson at the Rams’ 2-yard line. Senior quarterback Isaiah Pedro put the team’s slow offensive start behind him and led the team down the field for a touchdown. The series culminated in a 46-yard touchdown pass from Pedro to Johnson.
The Rams took a 21-point lead after junior wide receiver Zachary Bachelder faked an extra point and threw a pass to junior running back Claytin Valenzuela for a two-point conversion. From that point on, the Rams stepped on the gas pedal and didn’t let up. By halftime, the Rams led 35 to 0.
In the second half, Rincon would only have one successful drive. Maricopa’s defense was able to shut down Rincon’s senior running back Dahrian Harris-Mesh, and the Rangers only reached the red zone one time. The drive ended with a turnover on downs. The Rams would add two more touchdowns in the third quarter and another in the fourth.
Due to Arizona Interscholastic Association mercy rules, the clock kept running for nearly the entire second half. The game ended just two hours after it began with the Rams claiming the 56-point shutout victory. Pedro overcame early game struggles and finished with a tremendous night. He completed 13 of 15 pass attempts for 336 yards and four touchdowns. He had 11 rushing yards on three attempts and stellar defensive play throughout the game as well.
“I think I did a good job tonight,” Pedro said. “Our line gave us a lot of time to throw the ball and run the ball as well. Cameron [Sanders] and D’Angelo [Edgerton] played one heck of a game, and all the receivers ran crisp routes all the way around. I just dumped it to them when I could.”
Coach McDonald has praised Pedro as one of his best players since the pre-season. With Owens unavailable for the game, it was an easy choice to start him at quarterback.
“He can come in and we won’t miss a beat,” McDonald said. “Like I’ve said, he the most versatile football player that we have. We can put him anywhere, and I have complete trust in his ability.”
Other standout performances included team captain Johnny Johnson Jr., who caught four passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. He also had three rushes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Junior wide receiver David Owens caught 4 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while senior wide receiver Jalen Lee only caught one pass, but he wove his way to an 81-yard gain that set up a Maricopa touchdown. The Rams gave many players opportunities to run the ball, but Sanders, a sophomore running back, made the most of his time with the ball. Sanders continued his streak of good performances with 53 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.
Efficiency was the name of the game for Maricopa on offense Friday night. The Rams came with a balanced attack against Rincon. The offense rushed the ball 17 times and nearly matched it with 15 passes. Despite running just 32 plays, the Rams totaled 558 yards and 56 points.
For the second week in a row, the defense was dominant as well. However, the Rams will need to dig deep to keep this momentum as they head into divisional games this week. Next Friday, Maricopa will travel to Apache Junction High School to take on the Prospectors. Apache Junction lost its first three games of the season but has a history of being a competitive team, and the Rams should expect to see much of the same from the Prospectors this year.