Cienega was beating CDO 24–14 with 2:25 left in the 4A-I semifinal game last year. The Bobcats had given up 48 points in a 12-minute span the year before to CDO in their first semifinal lost so nothing was taken for granted.
Surely, they could hold on this time…it was not to be. CDO scored twice, Ka’Deem Carey tied the state touchdown record and the Dorados went on to play in the championship game again.
Fast forward to their D-II semifinal game against Ironwood Ridge and Cienega once again found themselves up late against a team with an unstoppable running back. Déjà vu all over again?
Mitch Fischer gained 222 yards on 34 carries against Cienega. He had passed the 2,000 yard mark (2,123) on his eighth carry of the game….he was unstoppable.
Fischer ran the first 13 plays for Ironwood Ridge and racked up 122 yards and two touchdowns. His first scoring run covered 40 yards in a burst up the middle that he took outside to go untouched.
Cienega went on the move with Manny Vera ripping off a 33-yard dash but the Bobcats fumbled the ball away two plays later and Julian Figueroa recovered the ball at midfield for Ironwood Ridge.
Fischer ran the ball in on a 1-yard dash eight plays later to put Ironwood Ridge up 14–0.
Cienega took the ball over and it was Vera’s turn again. He ran the ball 10 times on the drive and finished on a fourth-and-two gamble to cut Ironwood Ridge’s lead to 14–7.
A holding penalty was the only thing that stopped Ironwood Ridge at that point and the Nighthawks were forced to punt on their next possession.
Michael Archie took to the air for Cienega and hit Daniel Gonzales on a 9-yard play and then Jalen Rodgers for 9 more. He then hit Edgar Poe on a 35-yard bomb to even the score 14–14 with 7:52 left in the half.
Fischer was once again the workhorse and took Ironwood Ridge from their own 25 down to Cienega’s 15-yardline on eight runs. Rather than hand the ball off to Fischer once more on a third-and-three, Cienega came up with a sack as Tyler Williams attempted to get around the corner.
Ironwood Ridge tried a field goal but Gonzales broke through the line and blocked the 34-yard attempt. David Vega chased the ball down for Cienega but he was unable to pick it up. By time the dust settled, Cienega had the ball at Ironwood Ridge’s 39-yard line with 2:09 left in the half.
Archie hit Luke Holley on a 34-yard route to set up a first-and-goal at the 5 yard line but the Bobcats could not cash in and settled for a25-yard field goal by Jason Cox to put the Bobcats up 17–14 with 1:28 left.
Ironwood Ridge took over in excellent field position after the kickoff at their own 43 with 1:24 left. They went to the air rather than the run and came up empty.
Fischer had gained 160 yards at the half but the rest of the team only had about 23, including –1 yards passing on three attempts. That was not a good sign.
Cienega, on the other hand, featured a more balanced attack with Vera gaining 91 yards on the ground and Archie collecting 94 through the air.
Cienega drove down to the 8-yard line on the opening drive of the second half, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but John Klass stepped in front of an Archie pass and picked it off in the end zone to end the threat.
The teams traded punts before Fischer went on the move again and eventually dove over from 1-yard out to put Ironwood Ridge up 21–17 with 8:22 left in the game.
Cienega took over at their own 29 but it appeared their comeback would stall at the Ironwood Ridge’s 44-yard line as Cienega faced a fourth-and-7 with 5:15 left in their season.
Each team burned a timeout and Archie came out throwing and hit Rodgers up the sideline for a 12-yard gain to keep their dream alive.
“I knew I had to do it,” said Rodgers. “I saw an opening and that’s all it came down to.”
When asked what he saw when the ball was coming his way, Rodgers knew he had it.
“Got it, time to move on,” was all he thought of.
Archie hit Gonzales on a 9-yard pass and then went deep to find Poe on a 33-yard touchdown play to put Cienega up 24–21 with 3:15 left in the game.
For Archie, the low of throwing an interception to the high of throwing a touchdown must have crossed his mind but he handled the earlier letdown appropriately so it wouldn’t let the team down as the game went on.
“It wasn’t a great throw,” he explained. “But there was still time on the clock and I knew we’d get more chances. Poe ran a great route. And, I knew our defense would step up.”
Ironwood Ridge took the ball at their 35 with over 3 minutes left but decided to go to the air rather than let Fischer decide the game. The result was a scramble by Jake Matthews (called in to quarterback the final drive) that gained 5-yards but cost the team 30 seconds.
Gonzales broke through again and sacked Matthews for a 12-yard loss. Ironwood Ridge was called for an illegal substitution and the result was a third-and-22 at their own 23-yard line with 1:26 left.
Matthews hit Gordon Longville on a 19-yard play to set up fourth-and-3 with 1:19 left. Cienega crowded the middle and stopped Fischer about six inches short of the first down and the game was over.
No more blown victories. They gave Ironwood Ridge 3 minutes to win the game but they held on this time. Their third try at a semifinal round proved successful.
“How about them Bobcats?!” That was all Cienega coach Nemer Hassey had to tell his team as they gathered after game.
Sure, the Bobcat players rushed the field with 20 seconds left in the game and were already pumped up beyond imagination, but Hassey allowed them to take it up a notch and gave them all the credit.
“The kids played through when we could have folded,” Hassey explained. “I’m really happy for them. They wanted to win today. We were fortunate to come back from that deficit.”
Vera finished with 122 yards on 23 carries. Vera, like Fischer, passed the 2,000 mark with 2,006 yards. He needs 117 to pass Fischer.
“I told my teammates we were going to war,” said Vera. “Our defense stepped up and made great plays.”
Archie finished with 172 yards passing. Poe had 73 yards receiving, Gonzales had 44, Holley had 34 and Rodgers added 30.
Besides Fischer’s 222 yards, Williams gained 29. Williams and Matthews combined for 17 yards passing on four attempts.
Top seed Chaparral snuck past 5 seed Centennial 31–0 in the other semifinal game to set up the championship between 1 Chaparral and 2 Cienega next Saturday at ASU Stadium.
This will be the first championship appearance by Cienega. Chaparral has been there six times, winning five — including the last two.
The game will be shown live at 5:07 by Fox Sports Arizona.