CASA GRANDE — If COVID-19 had not altered the landscape of high school football — and everything else in the world — Casa Grande Union would not be playing Vista Grande on Friday.

When the latest two-year scheduling block of reclassification hit, the two Casa Grande schools were placed in separate regions. That differed from the previous two years, when each school was in the 4A Kino region.

CG Union lost all of its region opponents in 2020 because they all came from Pima County, which was not ready to have its public schools return to athletics when the season began. The Cougars then went out and scheduled seven freedom games, including the Spartans, to fill the void.

The two Casa Grande schools have met on the gridiron seven times, and Vista Grande leads the all-time series 4-3. However, the Cougars dominated the last two meetings in 2018 and 2019 by a combined score of 104-13.

Heading into Friday’s game, the Cougars (1-1) are flying high. They lost a close game to 5A power Tucson Salpointe Catholic in the season opener then ran roughshod over Lake Havasu in a 52-7 win last week. CG Union has established itself as one of the premier programs in Class 4A.

Conversely, the Spartans (1-1) are still trying to find consistent success. They snapped a 17-game losing streak in the season opener with a 28-21 win over Phoenix Shadow Mountain (1-1). Then familiar bad habits reared their ugly head in a 33-12 loss to Phoenix St. Mary’s (1-1) last Friday.

Vista Grande had its chances, but three turnovers, including two interceptions, killed those chances. And the Spartans’ defense had trouble reading the triple option attack of the Knights, who ran for 381 yards and four touchdowns.

Vista Grande quarterback Donald Altaffer completed 25 of 44 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Tyrese Constable continues to make plays for the Spartans at receiver, as he caught 11 passes for 94 yards and a TD.

Casa Grande Union presents the toughest challenge on Vista Grande’s schedule this year, and Spartans coach Chris Semore said his team will need considerable improvement to be competitive.

“We have our hands full,” he said. “They’re really good, and Angel Flores is one of the best quarterbacks in the state. We’re going to have to play a whole lot better than we played [against St. Mary’s] ... to even give ourselves a chance to win.”

Flores, a junior, is a D-I prospect with a rocket arm and elite athleticism. While the Cougars passing game has not yet clicked at its highest level, Flores made some big throws, especially in the second half, against Lake Havasu. He completed 9 of 11 passes for 148 yards with three TDs and one interception.

Two receivers emerged in that game, juniors Demetrius Garrett and Anthony Flores, who could play a major role for CG Union moving forward. Garrett had two receptions for 93 yards and a TD, and Anthony Flores grabbed five balls for 45 yards and two scores.

Angel Flores said it was tough to develop chemistry with his receivers during the pandemic, but working hard together in the offseason began to bear fruit.

“It was really rough,” Angel Flores said. “We didn’t have a spring, and we were real limited on practicing in the summer. We just had to really work. We would go after practice and on the weekends sometimes meet up and go throw, and I think that really helped our chemistry.”

Running back RJ Keeton played his first game of the season for CG Union last week, gashing Lake Havasu for 139 yards and three TDs on just seven carries.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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