CASA GRANDE — Despite playing football in the midst of a pandemic, Santa Cruz Valley had business to take care of on the field, and it did exactly that. Its star player and coach lead PinalCentral’s all-county team honors.
In particular, running back Hunter Ogle had a season for the ages, rushing for more than 2,000 yards in a shortened schedule. And Dust Devils coach Rishard Davis led his team to a domination of the 2A ranks, en route to Santa Cruz’s first state title since 1990.
For their achievements this season, Ogle is the PinalCentral Player of the Year, and Davis is the Coach of the Year.
Davis coached Santa Cruz to a 9-1 record, and its only loss came to 4A Casa Grande, which reached the state semifinals. The Dust Devils reached the 2A semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons and outscored their opponents 448-144, including a 42-7 thrashing of Benson in the title game.
In his senior season, Ogle was on a mission to put up 2,000 rushing yards. Despite the condensed schedule, he climbed that mountain. He rushed for 2,096 yards and 25 touchdowns in just 10 games, including four postseason games. He led the entire state in rushing, with 318 more yards than the No. 2 rusher.
Ogle averaged 209.6 yards per game and 10.5 yards per carry, leading him to his second straight PinalCentral POY honors. He was again a sensational two-way performer, playing a hard-hitting linebacker for a great Dust Devils defense.
Runner-up for Player of the Year — also for the second straight season — is Casa Grande quarterback Angel Flores. Flores used his athleticism, arm talent and running ability to lead the Cougars (8-2) to the No. 1 seed in the 4A playoffs. They made the state semifinal round for the first time in school history.
Flores, a junior, completed 69.2% (108 of 156) of his throws for 1,794 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. He dazzled even more with his legs, rushing for 948 yards and 16 TDs, including five 100-yard games.
Starting with the skill position players, the all-county first team offense includes Poston Butte’s Zion Burns at running back, Cameron Garcia of Apache Junction and Demetrius Garrett of Casa Grande at wide receiver, Connor Lopez of Poston Butte at tight end and Joey Jensen of Combs at flex player.
Burns blazed an impressive path for the Broncos, and he had another outstanding season with 1,248 yards and 15 TDs in just eight games. The senior star scorched defenses for 11.5 yards per carry and averaged 156 yards per game. He is headed to the University of Nevada.
Garcia quietly built a fantastic football career at Apache Junction, as he was the best receiver in Pinal County for the second year in a row. The Prospectors played just five games, and were even forced to forfeit a postseason game due to COVID-19. But Garcia caught 39 passes for 751 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 150.2 yards per game.
At the other receiver spot, Garrett, a junior, was a breakout star for Casa Grande. Displaying keen route running and scary speed, he had 33 receptions for 762 yards (23.1 average) and eight scores.
The 6-foot-4 Lopez was a key player for the Broncos offense with his ability to block in a run-heavy offense and to stretch the field as a receiving tight end. Just a sophomore, he led the team with 13 catches for 286 yards and three TDs.
Primarily used as a running back, Jensen can do it all on offense. He finished his stellar career for the Coyotes with 915 yards and 13 TDs in just six games, adding 16 catches for 179 yards and another three scores. In his final game in a Coyotes uniform, he had 28 carries for 408 yards and five TDs, earning the Arizona Cardinals High School Player of the Week award.
The first-team offensive line includes Hunter Taylor of Maricopa, Tanzor Gil of Santa Cruz, Miles Hammond of Poston Butte, Gerald Keeton of Casa Grande and Brodee Tucker of Combs.
Taylor, a three-year starter for the Rams, is a mountain at 6-6, 275 pounds. The senior was a second team all-region selection in the 5A San Tan, likely the toughest region in the state.
Gil, a junior, led a Santa Cruz line that bludgeoned opponents all year, averaging 387 rushing yards per game and scoring 51 rushing touchdowns. He was one of just three offensive linemen in 2A to be named first team all-conference, along with teammate Elijah Tellez.
Hammond, a senior, played center for the Broncos and was the key to opening holes for a powerful running attack that averaged 300 yards per game and 9 yards per carry.
Keeton anchored a Casa Grande line that devastated opponents with its spread offense. The Cougars racked up more than 400 total yards per game and had 41 rushing TDs.
Tucker, equally adept as a defensive lineman, was a first team all-region selection in the 4A Black Canyon. The Coyotes averaged 330 total yards and 28 points per game.
On the first team defense, the defensive linemen are Robert Maldonado of Santa Cruz, Kalon Holzinger of Poston Butte and Taniela Taaunima of Combs.
Maldonado, a junior, was constantly in the opponent’s backfield, and he had 30 tackles, including nine for a loss, with six sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
The Poston Butte defense shattered school records, and Holzinger had 26 tackles and five tackles for a loss as a senior, making first team all-region in the 4A Black Canyon.
Taunima finished his Combs career as a first team all-region selection in the 4A Black Canyon. He tied for the team lead with 39 tackles, including seven for a loss and six sacks.
At linebacker, the all-county first team includes Jake Thomas of Casa Grande, Brody Bullard of Apache Junction, Malachi Rodriguez of Coolidge and Riley Nolan of Poston Butte.
Thomas was the straw that stirs the drink for the Cougars defense. The senior had 90 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries for a unit that allowed just 17.1 points per game.
Bullard, a senior, was honored as the top defensive player in the 4A Black Canyon. He had 58 tackles (11.6 per game), eight tackles for a loss, a sack and two fumble recoveries.
Also honored as Defensive Player of the Year in his region, Rodriguez earned top honors in the 3A Central for Coolidge. The senior posted 110 tackles (15.7 per game) with seven tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles.
Nolan, a junior, had 65 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and three forced fumbles. He was a first team all-region selection in the 4A Black Canyon.
In the secondary, the all-county first team includes Amari Gilmore of Poston Butte, Justin Romo of Casa Grande, Wyatt Ogle of Santa Cruz and Patrick Garcia of Maricopa.
Gilmore was one of the most outstanding defensive players in the county, a game-changer who could cover, hit and even rush the passer. Primarily a strong safety, the junior had 75 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Romo, a senior, was a first team all-region selection in the 4A Kino. He had 35 tackles in a loaded Cougars defensive backfield that made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
Wyatt Ogle, the younger brother of Hunter, was the most dynamic defensive player on a team full of excellent ones. He was first team all-conference in 2A and the Defensive Player of the Year in the 2A Gila region. The junior posted 35 tackles and grabbed six interceptions, tied for second in the state, according to MaxPreps.
Garcia, a senior, makes the all-county first team for the second consecutive year. He was a second team all-region selection in the 5A San Tan and recorded a team-high 64 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles.
At the defensive flex position, Jake Sylvestre was a playmaker for Casa Grande. The linebacker had 82 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in his junior season.
The first team special teams unit includes Ty O’Rourke of Florence at kicker, Tad Lynch of Coolidge at punter and Augustin Chiang of Coolidge at return specialist.
O’Rourke was 2-for-2 on field goals with a long of 33 yards, and he hit 27 of 28 extra-point attempts. The sophomore was third on the team in scoring with 33 points.
Lynch was good at multiple positions for Coolidge (he led the team in receiving), but he was outstanding as a punter. The junior averaged 45.1 yards per punt, tied for second-best in the state.
Chiang, a junior, is another versatile player — especially good at defensive back — but his return skills gave the Bears an added threat. He averaged 32.5 yards per kickoff return, good for third in Class 3A.