|Senior Jesse Rios eyes a deep pass before hauling it in, hoping to continue the Marauders comeback, before they were stopped by Snowflake. VVN/Travis Guy|
|Senior quarterback Micah Nevarez runs into the end zone for the second time against the Snowflake Lobos. VVN/Travis Guy|
|In the Marauders home and season opening game against the Snowflake Lobos, Mingus Union was defeated 36-21. VVN/Travis Guy|
This was the game circled on the Marauders' calendars.
Whether it was because the Snowflake High School Lobos were the first team on the schedule, or because of the teams performance the year prior against the Lobos, the Marauders were looking forward to this game.
Unfortunately for MUHS, the Lobos were able to convert two turnovers into touchdowns, with an interception stopping any hope of a Marauder comeback, and top Mingus Union 36-21.
"Yeah, can't turn the ball over, we talk about that," MUHS head coach Bob Young said. "Two turnovers, I mean, that's two scores. He's got to do a better job. He did a lot of things well, but he's got to secure the ball a little bit better."
Both the offense and defense struggled with Snowflake, but while the offense was able to find its footing towards the end of the first half, the defense heated up at the beginning of the second half, but cooled as the game progressed.
"It's pretty rough," said junior Levi Collins. "We were looking forward to winning this game. We've been working at it for quite a while."
Mingus Union may be known as a running team, but against Snowflake, most of the Marauders success came from big gains through the air. Airing it out was an adjustment made during halftime, and turned mostly positive results for the home team, as the offensive line heated up and gave senior quarterback Micah Nevarez time to find his targets.
"When we went into halftime, coach Young said we were going to start passing a lot more, and then, of course, our linemen stepped up and we hit a lot more," Nevarez said. "Then when I had my chances, when no one was open, I ran the ball. But, our passing definitely did well. That's what got us back in the game."
At the end of the first half, the Lobos had put up three touchdowns, one with a two-point conversion, to the Marauders one score. Mingus' first touchdown came with :32 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and the Marauders were able to carry the momentum into the second.
The momentum that the team built was when Nevarez connected with fellow senior Brennan Kitchen, twice, to move the ball into red zone. Following a short gain up the middle from junior Javin Helsel, Nevarez strutted into the end zone to put Mingus on the board.
"Brennan, he's just a playmaker," Nevarez said. "We get him the ball and he'll make the plays. It's just we have to balance it out, because he plays for defense too, and as you can see, he was making a lot of tackles. But he's definitely one of our playmakers and when we get the ball in his hands, he makes great plays."
When the second half began, both the offense and defense came out strong. The defense was up first and recorded its third three-and-out of the game. The offense continued to ride the swell of confidence, with a Helsel catching a 9-yard pass, but then Nevarez was sacked for a 3-yard loss.
"When everyone saw points on the scoreboard, it pumped them up," Kitchen said.
This did not stop the Marauders. Senior Jesse Rios hauled in a pass, putting his team in scoring position. Again, Nevarez found his way into the end zone, but the extra point attempt sailed wide right, leaving Mingus nine points behind Snowflake, 22-13.
Like that, a comeback seemed plausible and within the Marauders' reach.
The Lobos marched up the field by eating up yards in small chunks to end the third quarter. Shortly after the beginning of the final stanza, Snowflake found its way into the end zone behind quarterback Ty Reidhead, who gave Mingus' defense problems all game.
"Oh my god, that quarterback was a freight train," Kitchen said. "The only way you could tackle him was to get three guys on him, or you just dive at his feet, because he was tough."
When the Marauders offense took the field for the first time in the fourth quarter, it was almost déjà vu. Nevarez found Kitchen to spur the offense. Then senior Dakota Hanks found his way to the outside and put Mingus within striking distance. With the Snowflake defense focused on Nevarez, Kitchen slipped to the visitors' side of the field and marched into the end zone. Nevarez followed that up with a two-point conversion to Helsel.
"That's what kept us going. That kept us, kind of, in the game, until the end," Kitchen said. "The passing game really helped us this week."
Only down by eight, Mingus would do its best to close the gap, but ultimately one final score from the visitor would ice the game.
"I'm disappointed," Young said. "I'm really, I ... Snowflake's a good team, there's no doubt about it, but I really, I thought we played poorly and the leaders didn't handle themselves in situations when there was some adversity, they have to do a better job of stepping up."
Between Reidhead and running back Lehi Caldwell continually running the ball through, and around, Mingus' defense, to the trick plays the Lobos used; the Marauders defense was on their toes through the whole game. Second half adjustments worked for the team during Snowflakes first few possessions, but Mingus could not adjust after the Lobos made changes of their own on offense.
"It was pretty difficult, considering their linemen were doing a really good job," Collins said. "We had to read the linemen to stop them, but when we had to rebound, we just fought harder."
While the Marauders would have preferred to begin their season with a win, Kitchen thought the team did well, overall.
"We played our hearts out, we gave everything we could," Kitchen said. "We couldn't stop them on defense, they just ran it right at us every time, but we left everything on the field, so I feel good about it. I would rather have won though."
The Marauders will now shift focus to their next opponent, the Cactus High School Cobras, in Glendale. While the Cobras will get the Marauders full attention, the loss to Snowflake should drive Mingus during practice, especially when Young believes it was a game that could have been won.
"Oh, absolutely, (we could have won that game)," Young said.