CASA GRANDE — Friday’s matchup between Casa Grande Union and Tucson Pueblo was a battle of physicality, and it was a battle Pueblo clearly won.
The Warriors (2-0) used a punishing ground game and an attacking defense to beat the Cougars (1-2) 28-15 in Casa Grande.
The Casa Grande defense, which was dominant in its first two games, was gashed on the ground. The Warriors had 268 rushing yards, led by Julian Lopez with 157 yards and a TD.
Pueblo quarterback Marcelino Vega completed his only two pass attempts for 36 yards.
“They did a great job. They beat us up in all three phases of the game,” Cougars coach Jake Barro said. “They pushed us all around the field.”
Casa Grande sophomore quarterback Angel Flores was limited to just four pass attempts in the first half, completing two for 28 yards. But RJ Keeton came in at quarterback running the Wildcat, and ran a direct snap in for a 2-yard score with 1:39 left in the second quarter. Keeton followed that with a two-point conversion run, and the Cougars trailed just 14-8 at the half.
But a week after Casa Grande lost 14-7 to Tucson Sabino largely due to penalties, it had more missed opportunities against Pueblo.
Flores had a long rushing touchdown called back on a holding penalty, Darrell Penn dropped a pass in the end zone — although it would have been a tough catch — and the Cougars fumbled on a punt return midway through the third quarter. The Warriors recovered that fumble at the Cougars 38-yard line, and they eventually scored on a 10-yard run by Fernando Medina.
Barro said he hopes it was just a “bad night” for his defense. Turnovers and very few sustained drives from the offense didn’t help. In addition to the lost fumble on the punt return, the Cougars also gave the ball away on another fumble in the second quarter.
Trailing 28-8 in the fourth quarter, Flores threw an 8-yard TD to a streaking Damion Allen in the back corner of the end zone to make it a 28-15 game. Casa Grande was driving in Pueblo territory late in the fourth quarter, but a Flores pass intended for Allen was behind him and incomplete on 4th-and-7 with 2:41 remaining.
Flores completed 10 of 17 passes for 110 yards and a TD. He also rushed for 47 yards. Caden Robbins was the leading rusher for CG Union with six carries for 64 yards, and receiver Brady Stephens caught three passes for 49 yards.
But the missed opportunities will linger for the Cougars.
“It’s two weeks in a row now where we can count three or four plays each game that are the reason we lost,” Barro said. “I think it’s a little bit mental focus, and it’s discipline. And I’ve always had the belief that lack of discipline and focus falls on the head coach; I still have that belief, so we need to meet tomorrow and figure out what we need to do to fix it.”