Honor Bowl

Red Mountain’s football program had the opportunity to play in the Honor Bowl, a showcase in San Diego that honors veterans and fallen soldiers. The Mountain Lions beat Mater Dei Catholic in the showcase and represented Arizona on a national stage. (Josh DaFoe/Tribune Contributor)

First-year Red Mountain head football coach Kyle Enders wanted his players to have a unique experience to open the 2022 season. 

He knew that could be accomplished at the Honor Bowl in San Diego. The showcase featured several teams from southern California, a northern California team and two from Nevada and Colorado, respectively. It also featured three East Valley football teams, Red Mountain included. 

The Honor Group, which puts on the showcase, makes each team feel like they’re the best in the country. Unique entrances fit with strobe lights, video boards and smoke helped teams enter the field. They were also part of unique ceremonies that honored military veterans and fallen soldiers and before the game had a chance to visit nearby Camp Pendleton. 

There, they saw different demonstrations and had the chance to meet soldiers on base. Veterans attending the Honor Bowl spoke to the teams before the game in the locker room. 

“I thought about this bowl since February when we set it,” Enders said. “I didn’t know it was this. We went to Camp Pendleton, the speech, the whole ceremony. It was unbelievable. I didn’t think it was going to be this great.”

Red Mountain faced Mater Dei Catholic out of San Diego. The Crusaders won a state title last season in one of the state’s divisions. It presented a challenge for the Mountain Lions early on, as the two teams were tied at 7 entering the half. 

But the Mountain Lions traveled six hours to put on a show and represent Arizona in the best way possible. So, in the second half, they found momentum. 

It started with a kick return to open the third quarter from senior athlete Lenox Lawson. Red Mountain’s defense continued to dominate up front led by Braeden Kaczmarek, who 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.”

Red Mountain’s offense went on to overpower the Crusader defense in the final two quarters. Senior quarterback Carter Crispin finished 16-of-23 for 238 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those went to junior tight end Preston Heap. The other to sophomore wideout Taveon Sueing. 

Along with the kick return, Lawson had another touchdown on the ground to lead the Mountain Lions to a 35-16 victory. 

Lawson said getting the win was important to his team for a number of reasons. The obvious, to prove Arizona is an elite in high school football. But getting a win at the Honor Bowl felt more meaningful due to the circumstances surrounding the game. 

The Honor Group aims to raise awareness for the needs of military veterans and their families. In year’s past, service dogs were gifted to veterans at the game. They did the same this year and donated proceeds from merchandise sales to veterans and their families. 

Before kickoff of every game, teams remain silent on the sideline as the Honor Bowl hosts walk the crowd through a ceremony that built a battlefield cross. The cross, which consists of an assault rifle, military helmet, combat boots and dog tags assembled in a specific way, honors soldiers lost in battle. Following the building of the cross, Taps was played, which is common at military funerals. 

This year, the Honor Bowl also honored the five marines killed in an Osprey crash in a remote training area in southern California in June. One by one the names of soldiers involved in the training accident were read and repeated by the crowd. 

“This trip was so special,” Lawson said. “Going to Camp Pendleton this morning made it way more special. Hearing about all those stories, it made me feel like I’m doing something for them a little bit. I’m just so grateful to be out here and be able to do this.” 

Red Mountain’s showing in the game came in front of a large visiting crowd. Several families made the trip to San Diego to cheer on the Mountain Lions. The Red Mountain pom and cheer teams also made the trip. 

The energy they had in the large stands at Cathedral Catholic High School helped feed energy into the Mountain Lions. 

“I’m excited, this is awesome for the kids, for everyone in our community. I mean, look at this,” said Enders, who received an ice bath from players after his first win as Red Mountain head coach. “It’s like a damn home game out here. Representing Arizona was a big thing, too.”

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