Tempe Marcos de Niza coach Roy Lopez could only say one thing after escaping Mesa Westwood with the Padres’ sixth straight win on Friday.
“We were extremely lucky to win,” the Padres coach said after a lackluster 14-6 road victory in East Valley Region play. “Thank God for our defense.”
The second-ranked team in 5A-II never really got into an offensive rhythm, but it didn’t look like that would matter as its defense pitched a shutout for 43 minutes.
“We’re not running that way we usually run,” said Lopez, whose team was held to 51 yards on the ground. “And we’re not blocking the way we usually block. I give Westwood credit, they took our strength away. We’ll get better.”
The Warriors (3-3, 1-1), coming off a big 16-15 win over previously undefeated Gilbert Perry last week, held their own with the Padres, trailing 7-0 into the third quarter. The Pumas held the ball for seven minutes of that period before Marcos took control.
The Padres (6-0, 2-0), who had won their first five games by an average of 25 points, didn’t have any offensive rhythm, moving the ball with some success but stalling in the red zone.
“We came out a little slow,” said running back Dominic Abreu, who rushed for 56 yards on eight carries. “We just started slow. But we came back up and did what we had to do in the end.”
Lopez went a bit further: “We are not a very good offensive team right now.”
It wasn’t until the 8:34 mark of the fourth quarter when Ramon Abreu capped a 10-play, 77-yard drive with a 3-yard run that put some space between Marcos and the pesky Warriors.
“I’m extremely upset with the way our offensiveline played, and that’s my fault,” Lopez said. “I’ll correct it and we’ll be back.”
Westwood promptly fumbled the ball on its next play but held Marcos on a fourth-and-inches play to get the ball back with 6:14 remaining.
Juan Zazueta then hit Michael Romero on a 26-yard touchdown pass, as Romero got behind the Padres defensive backs in one of the few slips of the night. Westwood got the ball one more time in the final minute but couldn’t get a first down.
The Padres moved the ball in the first half but only got into the end zone on a fourth-and-17 play. Zach Schira found Justin Rodriguez in the end zone and Rodriguez outleaped his coverage for a 25-yard score with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
It looked like Marcos’ drive was dead, losing yardage on successive plays after reaching the 16, including a sack of Schira by Marcus Wilkens as the pocket collapsed on third-and-12.
Marcos didn’t get much offensive push otherwise and lost a chance when the Padres’ Collin Martinez intercepted a Zazueta pass at midfield with a minute left before the break.
On first down at the Warriors 33, Schira went deep for Rodriguez, but Zazueta intercepted the pass at the Westwood 3 and the Warriors ran out the first-half clock.
The Warriors didn’t have much more success in the opening half, driving to the Marcos 19 midway through the second quarter only to stall when a screen pass went nowhere on fourth-and-6 with 4:44 left in the half.
Westwood found some success with their run plays out of a motion formation. Billy Sueing (10 carries for 59 yards) picked up a couple of first downs on those plays, going in motion and taking the handoff. That’s how Westwood moved the ball in its best sustained drive of the night.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, Zazueta’s incomplete pass on fourth-and-5 at the Marcos 23 ended the seven-minute, 60-yard march.
Schira had some success early, finding Ramon Abreu and Rodriguez for big gainers in the Padres’ first possession, but the offensive rhythm that resulted in 37.2 points per game for the first five contest of the year was not present Friday.
LIVE IN-GAME UPDATES
Zach Schira hits Justin Rodriguez for a 25-yard score on fourth-and-17 to give Marcos a 7-0 lead over Westwood with 3:03 left in the first quarter.
Marcos has held on for a 14-6 victory. More information coming shortly.
Marcos de Niza (5-0, 1-0) vs. Westwood (3-2, 1-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
Address: 945 W. 8th Street, Mesa
Key matchup: Westwood's skill players - quarterback Juan Zazueta, receiver Billy Sueing and running back Michael Romero - have made an impact in the Warriors winning three of their last four. They'll need more of that clashing with the Padres' tough veteran defense.
Key stat: Marcos wasn't big on long drives last week, scoring five TDs on plays of at least 19 yards in length.
The intrigue: Westwood can make a game of it if it can limit the big play. Warriors don't have the firepower to match offensive scores with the Padres. If the defense hangs in, can the Warriors knock off an unbeaten team two weeks in a row?