FLORENCE — American Leadership Academy-Ironwood was always in the game, only trailing by a touchdown at the half and going into the fourth quarter. But the Warriors never managed to get the upper hand, and Florence came away with a 35-21 win Friday.

With Florence (3-4, 2-0 in region) star receiver Tommy Carberry nursing an injury, the rest of the team stepped up as Kaleb Lewis scored two touchdowns and Josh Jackson, Isaac Sandoval and Victor Aguirre each found the end zone as well.

“There were some great individual efforts and it was a good team effort,” Gophers coach Bill McKane said.

For the Warriors (3-4, 0-2 in region), junior Travis Mbuya scored twice and senior Devon Elliot also scored.

Friday’s win was an especially poignant one for McKane, as it was on this day eight years ago that Florence’s coach — his son Steve — passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

“These kids played for that. I didn’t ask them to,” McKane said afterward. “I’m grateful for these kids. … This was a big win for us and for me personally.”

The ball changed hands a lot, especially early in the game, but the Warriors couldn’t capitalize on their breaks.

“Like most sporting events, it’s missed opportunities,” said ALA-Ironwood coach Travis Epperson. “That’s what good teams do, they take advantage of opportunities. I felt like there were some opportunities we left on the field tonight, and between two evenly-matched teams, they took advantage of opportunities and we didn’t.”

After the Warriors received the opening kickoff, the ball changed hands three times before Lewis ran six yards for the first score of the night. Seven minutes into what would become an eventful second quarter, Jackson scrambled nine yards for another.

ALA-Ironwood got on the board barely a minute later when Mbuya caught a short pass and ran almost 60 yards for the end zone. Fifteen seconds later, Florence’s Sandoval made a reception and ran nearly 65 yards for the score.

Just over a minute later, the Warriors quarterback attempted a 60-yard scoring bomb to Caleb Gaston. He caught it and held onto it, despite a hard hit that knocked the wind out of him.

The score was on the board for a minute or so, but the officials eventually ruled against it and the ball was placed on the one-yard line. Two plays later, Elliot made the catch just inside the end zone for a score of 21-14 at the half.

As the third quarter began, carries by Lewis and Jackson, and a couple of Warrior 5-yard penalties, put the Gophers within striking distance and Aguirre scrambled the last two yards for the score.

Less than a minute later, the Warriors’ Mbuya made a reception and ran 35 yards for the touchdown.

In the fourth, Lewis punched through the last two yards for the night’s final score.

“In the second half we ran the clock down and held them to one touchdown; we had to do that,” McKane said. “(The Warriors) are tough, they’re a pretty darn good football team so I have a lot of respect for them. And I think they’re well-coached. But we obviously need to work on a few things, so we have to have a great week of practice. But I’m proud of our kids. … They did what they had to do to get a victory.”

The Gophers plan to practice all the harder next week in preparation for arch-rival Coolidge.


Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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