FLORENCE — There was the usual handshake line after Florence’s 48-7 homecoming victory over Sahuarita Friday, but then there was more.

Florence coach Bill McKane called over the Mustangs and their coaches for extra handshakes and hugs.

Despite several players being down from potential exposure to COVID-19, the Mustangs showed up, “and I have so much respect for them,” McKane said afterwards. “There are teams that wouldn’t have done that. And these guys did. Those are good kids and good coaches. And I’m so proud of our kids for the way they played.”

Florence’s 75-year-old coach got hit at one point as one of the Mustangs’ running backs was forced out of bounds.

“But that’s OK, no big thing,” McKane said. “I had to give him a hug and tell him he’s a hard-hittin’ kid.”

Florence’s seniors not only have the homecoming win, but a win on their last game on their home field.

Senior Cade Stenson, a top player who’s been on the sidelines with a knee injury all season, played long enough to make a short reception in the third quarter.

McKane said he got approval for the play in advance from Stenson’s parents and the school administration. “He’s truly one of the finest football players around.”

Sahuarita lost 10 or more players to quarantine, “some as we were literally getting on the bus,” coach Jake Price said. “It was a lot of mix, match, patch, coaching on the fly. But as weird as it sounds, I think it’s probably the most united we could ask for. Because when your back’s against the wall, you’ve got to make sure you trust the person next to you, and the kids showed a lot of character. I was incredibly proud of our boys tonight.”

The Mustangs were actually the first on the board after a scoreless first quarter.

On the 16-yard line, at 4th-and-2, Sahuarita moved in tight formation to get the ball one yard from goal, and repeated the strategy to allow senior Levi Pannell to score.

It’s a maneuver that some call “pushing the pile,” but the Mustangs call it “the moose.”

The coach gave Pannell credit for the idea. Linemen typically get in a coach’s ear about running the ball, “but it was actually a great suggestion on his part,” Price said.

The game remained close in the first half. Daven “Day-Day” Neal ran in a punt 55 yards as the clock ran out for a halftime score of 14-7.

“We got off to a slow start,” McKane said. “I think it’s because we took ’em too lightly at first because we knew they were coming up a little short-handed. But they came up here to play and win. We ended up having to turn it on and get it done.”

Tommy Carberry and Isaac Sandoval each found the end zone twice for Florence, and Kaleb Lewis and Josef Mahlberg each scored one.

After a high snap got away from the Mustangs, Mahlberg grabbed the ball and scrambled a few yards for the night’s final touchdown.

Also in the fourth, Carberry made a catch and ran the ball in for a 55-yard score.

In the third quarter, Sandoval caught a pass and ran in a 37-yard score, and later grabbed a fumble and rushed for a 28-yard touchdown. He also made a third-quarter interception.

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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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