ELOY – When it comes to 2A Conference football, winning the region still matters as the top regional teams earn an automatic bid to the state tournament.

For 13th ranked Sequoia Pathway (5-2), winning Friday’s game against Santa Cruz Valley would lock the top spot in the Rillito Region and get the automatic bid to the 16-team 2A state tournament in a few weeks.

“We’ve had a good start,” Sequoia Pathway coach Donnie Margerum said. “We did better than we expected to do in the first half of the season. We had a few transfers that didn’t get to play until the second half of the season, so we have a full team, we have some depth behind us so we’re not as tired and things are starting to gel.”

On the other hand, the No.22 Dust Devils (3-4) must win this week and next week against Tucson Tanque Verde to keep their hopes alive of defending their state title.

“It’s a win or go home type of situation for us so we’re definitely preparing that way,” Santa Cruz coach James Fitzgerald said.

Prior to last week’s 55-0 win over Tucson Catalina, Santa Cruz had dropped four straight games by six points or less as they were without some key playmakers during that stretch.

Fitzgerald stated that about 90% of the team is back and this week’s focus is to pay attention to the small details so that there are no mental mistakes on Friday.

“I’m hoping that we can start piquing at the right time and start building up towards playoff football,” Fitzgerald said. “It was definitely a hard couple of weeks in September, it seemed every day we were losing a guy or two and not knowing who was going to be there or when they would get back from quarantine.”

Leading the charge for the Dust Devils is Ricardo Alaniz with 999 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and Wyatt Ogle with 649 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

Last week was Ogle’s first game since Sept. 17, the senior rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown on seven carries.

Margerum stated that the gameplan for his defense to try to stop the three-headed running monster that the Dust Devils have.

“They’re the defending state champs and we have to come with our A-game,” Margerum said. “We understand that their season has been a little rocky and somethings have been going on, but we know that they’re a really good team and nothing to be taken lightly.”

The Pumas are also a run heavy team as they have rushed for over 1,700 yards with Tre Lacey leading the way with 712 yards and eight touchdowns.

Cornell Reed Jr. and Jyrie Gamble have helped carry the load for most of the season. In the past two games Tyshaun Mooney, a transfer, has posted 310 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

“We just have to try to contain their athleticism,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re very fast, they run the ball in a variety of different ways and with a variety of different ball carriers. We just have to limit their explosive plays and contain their athleticism.”

In last week’s game against Tanque Verde the Pumas only had one offensive touchdown in their 34-7 win. The Sequoia Pathway defense had one kick return touchdown by Lacey and three interceptions returned for touchdowns, two by Gamble and one by Norien Banks.

The Pumas’ two losses this season are to two heavy running teams in Morenci and Phoenix Arizona Lutheran Academy.

According to Margerum the Sequoia Pathway team that will show up on Friday is a completely different team than the one that got those two losses, as they have incorporated eight transfers into the mix.

“In the beginning of the season I had a new defensive coordinator so that was our first game with that guy and that system,” Margerum said. “We’re just a different team all the way around, we’ve added so much more size on the D-line and some players on the back end at safety and at the corners.”

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Maria Vasquez is the Sports Editor for PinalCentral. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.

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