Red Mountain head coach Kyle Enders always tells his team special teams have the ability to change the outcome of a game.
So, when the Mountain Lions needed a spark coming out of the half tied at seven with San Diego’s Mater Dei Catholic in the Honor Bowl Friday afternoon, senior athlete Lenox Lawson knew it had to come from the special teams unit. A pair of blocks gave Lawson a lane. He let his speed do the rest.
He cruised into the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown, one that brought life to the Mountain Lions and helped them go on to beat the former champion Crusaders 35-16 to kick off the new season.
“This is like a movie, man,” said Enders, who received an ice bath from players after his first win as Red Mountain head coach. “I’m excited, this is awesome for the kids, for everyone in our community. I mean, look at this. It’s like a damn home game out here.”
Red Mountain’s defense shined early on in the first quarter as a pass from Mater Dei quarterback Domonic Nankil was tipped and intercepted by Mav Sparks. A few plays later, Lawson took it in from 22 yards out.
The Crusaders responded with a drive that consisted of broken tackles and a prayer from Nankil while getting chased down that was answered near the goal line. He connected with junior running back Anthony McMillian to even the game.
Both defenses dug in at that point, not letting much in the way of offense for either team. It wasn’t until Lawson’s kick return in the third quarter that Red Mountain’s offense found a rhythm and never looked back.
“Enders always talks about, ‘If you win the special teams battles, you have an 80% chance of winning,’” Lawson said. “He told me right before that, ‘they can’t mess with you, do what you do.’ Got the kick return, made one move, and turned up field. The rest is history.”
After the second forced turnover on downs of the day by the Red Mountain defense, senior quarterback Carter Crispin connected with junior tight end Preston Heap who broke free for a 79-yard touchdown. A third and fourth forced turnover on downs on two consecutive drives allowed Crispin to lead his team down the field and find Taveon Sueing wide open in the end zone.
Crispin connected with Heap once more to officially put the game out of reach in the fourth.
The senior quarterback finished 15-of-22 for (unofficially) 228 yards and three touchdowns. Heap caught five passes for 120 yards and the two scores while Lawson rushed for 107 yards and had a score of his own on offense.
Mater Dei Catholic had little answers for Red Mountain’s pass rush.
Braeden Kaczmarek was routinely in the backfield alongside junior Seth Barron. The linebacking duo of Carson Mauterer and freshman Jameson Wade also wreaked havoc. Wade, in his first varsity game, had three sacks for the Mountain Lions.
“We had something to prove,” Kaczmarek said. “We’re in California, they won a championship. We had a chip on our shoulder. We knew we had to come and beat them. We came with a lot of energy and we had that early stop which gave us momentum.”
The win set the stage for Arizona teams playing out-of-state opponents to open the season, many of which traveled to California. Following Red Mountain’s win in the Honor Bowl kickoff game, Chandler went on to dominate Cathedral Catholic.
Overall, it was a good showing for Arizona on the first day of a showcase honoring fallen military men and women and veterans.
“Representing Arizona was a big thing,” Enders said. “They had an interview before the game and they were talking about the Lincoln game, which is next week for them. Our kids took it to heart, and it showed. I think we beat them in every phase of the game.”