Pusch Ridge buries Crusaders from the start

Northwest Christian senior tailback Caleb Dunn looks for running room as the No. 1 Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian defense moves in during the Nov. 10 3A football playoff quarterfinal. [Kelsey Groff/Special to West Valley Preps]

Chuck Constantino
Special to West Valley Preps

TUCSON – The Pusch Ridge Christian football team began the season with two goals.

One, like most teams, was to win the state championship. The other was avoid slow starts that have plagued the program in years past.

The No.1 Lions needed just four plays from scrimmage and less than two minutes to strike first and stick to the plan, as senior Mitch Maas began the onslaught of offense with a three yard plunge into the end zone.

Top-seeded Pusch Ridge Christian (12-0) dominated No. 8 Northwest Christian 42-6 in the 3A state quarterfinals Nov. 10 to advance to play No. 4 Benjamin Franklin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18 at Campo Verde High School.

“We had a number of years in this program with nothing but just lethargic starts, but our focus since the offseason has been to start fast, and to not counter punch,” second year Pusch Ridge Christian coach Jerry Harris said. “We go out and punch them first, and not wait for the other team and try to measure them up first. We came out with great energy and quick scores.”

Pusch Ridge Christian senior quarterback Christian Fetsis, who finished with 116 passing yards, 90 rushing yards and two total touchdowns, said the importance of scoring first was something that’s been the difference with the team this season.

“Our goal is to be the first ones to punch, it’s been a huge one of our goals this year, to start fast,” Fetsis said. “It made a huge difference with the guys putting the points on the board and scoring first, we kept doing it, drive after drive.”

The matchup was the third straight year these squads have met in the postseason. In 2015, the Lions came away as the 4A state champions after winning 13-10. Last season, Northwest Christian beat Pusch Ridge in the first round of the state playoffs.

“There was a little bit of vengeance from last year, not going to lie, this game has been on our minds for a long time,” Fetsis said. “It felt awesome to get this win tonight.”

Northwest Christian coach David Inness said the big difference in tonight’s game was the experience factor on the Lions sideline with 14 seniors and 10 players who were on the 2015 state championship team.

“This is the best team they’ve had, Inness said of Pusch Ridge. “They’re all seniors. We came in here with 15 underclassmen starting. It didn’t start great, we battled a little in the second quarter, we just couldn’t get anything going.”

While the Crusaders (9-3) offense stalled in the first half, after a change to the quarterback position with sophomore starter Jonathan Metzger out with an injury, the veteran senior Jarin Davis was able to move the chains.

Though the Crusaders opened the third quarter by marching down the field and scoring in seven plays, the deficit was just too much to overcome for Northwest Christian.

“We had to make the change a quarterback when he got hurt, we didn’t freak out, we got two turnovers in the first half, and we have to come away with at least seven points,” Inness said. “If we played them again, I’d probably throw it 70 times.”

Northwest Christian junior cornerback Thomas Poe (#21) and junior linebacker Levi Borland (#55) bring down a Pusch Ridge ball carrier Nov. 10 in Tucson. [Kesley Groff/Special to West Valley Preps]

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