The Sunrise Mountain football program has not had many special nights since its first varsity season in 2009, but Friday’s 34-27 win over Rancho can definitely be classified as one for the ages.
The win was the fifth of the season for the Miners and ensured they will finish with no worse than a .500 record. It also was the program’s first homecoming win.
However, in order for all those firsts to happen against a rejuvenated Rancho squad, someone needed to step up big.
That person was junior running back Claude Moore, who rushed for 158 yards on 31 carries and broke a 27-27 tie on a 9-yard touchdown run with 5:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I’m so happy right now — five wins and our first homecoming win,” Moore said. “I am so tired, and my voice is gone because I’ve been yelling so much. For this program, this is a big step. I love my team. We came out in the last seconds and got this win.
“(Offensively), we made a couple of mistakes, but we got it worked out. I’m thankful for my guys. They are great. I hope every last one them makes it to the next level if they want to do that.”
Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first quarter, and the Miners (5-2) appeared to take control of the game late in the second quarter when quarterback Stephen Wright scored on a 17-yard touchdown run to take a 14-7 lead. With 19 seconds remaining in the half, Wright hit Dante Calahan on a 40-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 20-7.
However, Rancho’s Jonathan Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown to cut the Miners’ lead to 20-14 at the half.
After Sunrise Mountain forced a punt on the Rams’ first possession of the second half, Wright connected with Xavier Kyles on a 49-yard scoring strike to give the Miners a 27-14 lead.
Wright threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 50 yards and two scores. Kyles caught six passes for 100 yards.
“This school has always had talented kids, but we’ve just never been able to get it together,” Sunrise Mountain coach Chris Sawyers said. “For whatever reason, our staff has done a good job this year of making them love each other, play for each other and play like a team. Yeah, we are excited about individuals, but we are more excited about ourselves as a team.”
Ja’Vion Mickel capped a nine-play, 53-yard drive for Rancho (2-5) with a 15-yard scoring run to cut the Miners’ lead to 27-20 late in the third quarter. After a Sunrise Mountain punt, Rams quarterback Dion Southern hit Roger Ward for a 73-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 27-27 with 7:59 left in the fourth quarter.
Southern and Ward connected earlier in the game on a 34-yard touchdown pass. Both times Ward was running down the middle of the field wide open when he caught the ball.
Southern ended the night with 184 yards passing and two touchdowns. Ward caught two passes for 107 yards.
“We did everything we could do defensively to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Sawyers said. “We didn’t read keys really well, and we let big things happen because we weren’t doing our job. We’ve played really well on defense this year, but tonight we were awful.”
Rancho tried to rally late, driving to the Miners’ 26-yard line, but sophomore linebacker Dalwin Spates sacked Southern on fourth down to end the drive. Spates finished with two sacks, and Jayce Metcalfe and Ja’twion Farmer combined on a sack. Christian Vargas recovered a Rams’ fumble.
“(Spates) is a special athlete,” Sawyers said. “He had 15 tackles last week, and 14 the week before. He’s only a sophomore, but he’s an unbelievable talent.”
Next week, the Miners will try to clinch a spot in the Division I-A playoffs when they host Del Sol.
“I don’t think it will be too hard to get these kids focused,” Sawyers said. “They know what going to the playoffs will mean for this school and community. They’ll be plenty focused.”