CASA GRANDE — The good news for Casa Grande Union – it has put together a three-game winning streak and rebounded nicely after starting the season 1-2.
The bad news for the Cougars, they have to travel to Tucson Salpointe Catholic – ranked No. 1 in 4A and No. 2 in the new Open Division rankings. And the biggest reason the challenge is so daunting is Lancers running back Bijan Robinson, a five-star prospect rated as the top running back in the nation by rivals.com.
“This is definitely the toughest part of our schedule and Salpointe is the toughest part of it,” Casa Grande coach Jake Barro said. “We want to play well. We just want to keep getting better and keep improving. We just want to make sure we are getting better as a team.”
A big positive for the Cougars (4-2, 1-0 4A Kino) is they are playing their best football of the year, Barro said.
After a 58-8 season opening win over Tucson Palo Verde, CG Union dropped its next two two games before getting a 33-21 upset win over Sahurita Walden Grove (5-1), ranked No. 7 in 4A.
The Cougars followed it up with a pair of blowout wins over Rio Rico (2-4) and Vista Grande (0-7).
“You want to play your best football going into region play, and then you want to play even better football going into the playoffs,” Barro said. “It’s just one step at a time. We felt like we looked good last week and that was our first region game, and now we are getting into some tough games. I like where we are at, we will just see what happens on Friday.”
Which for the Cougars, means Salpointe Catholic (5-0, 1-0). A team that Barro had one word to describe them, “good.”
He added that the Lancers’ offense is one the best he’s ever seen with Robinson and the offensive line.
“He’s the best player in the state of Arizona in any position,” Barro said of Robinson. “He’s the best running back that Arizona football has ever had.”
Robinson has verbally committed to play at Texas next year after receiving offers from Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arizona State and many other schools.
Through five games this year, the senior has complied 1,126 rushing yards on 48 carries with 21 touchdowns and averages 23.5 yards per carry and 225 yards per game.
Robinson was recently featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section of the magazine after he ran for 430 yards on 13 carries and six touchdowns in the Lancers’ 68-34 win over Goodyear Desert Edge (4-3) on Sept. 6.
“You have to try to get to him in the backfield quite honestly,” Barro said. “With a kid like that, you have to try and get to him in the backfield. Once he gets going and gets full speed, he’s tough. He is as tough as anybody to tackle. That’s kind of the idea to get to him early.”
The road for the Cougars, who are currently ranked No. 14 in 4A won’t get much easier as they host Tucson Catalina Foothills (2-4) next before traveling to No. 4 Tucson Sahuaro (6-1) before closing out the season against No. 3 Oro Valley Canyon del Oro (6-0).
But an upset win against Salpointe Catholic would certainly rock the state and cause a major shakeup in Class 4A.
“That would change everything,” Barro said. “You beat them, and it changes the whole dynamic.