Updated: Nov 30, 2021
North High School spoiled Shadow Mountain’s homecoming with a 52-13 win at Victory Stadium on Friday led by senior quarterback Caleb Miller and senior running back Gabriel Aldana.
The Mustangs’ offense found their groove after struggling on their opening drive, where they committed five penalties, and Miller struggled to handle snaps. On their next possession, Miller led a five-play, 91-yard drive capped off by a 23-yard run by Aldana to take a 6-0 lead.
“Our center was snapping the ball over the place, (and) our running back wasn’t being patient, so it started to speed (Miller) up,” Mustangs coach Mark Mejia said. “Once we settled in, the rest took care of itself.”
North continued to punish the Matadors on the ground. After returning a punt for 45 yards, Aldana sliced through Shadow Mountain for a 5-yard touchdown to take a 20-7 lead. Senior running back Jj Herrera also joined in on the rushing attack to complement Aldana, rushing for at least 10 yards three times. Herrera finished the night rushing for 95 yards on 11 carries and scoring a rushing touchdown, while Aldana rushed for 70 yards on eight carries.
“When you have a running game, it makes the passing game easier,” Miller said. “When we’re efficient running the ball, we’re efficient passing.”
Despite throwing an interception in the second quarter, Miller finished the night completing 17 of 22 passes for 278 yards. He damaged Shadow Mountain’s defense, completing five passes for more than 20 yards and converting a fourth-and-13 on the Matadors’ 41-yard line by throwing a laser to freshman wide receiver Ezy Brown. Miller also threw a 10-yard touchdown to junior tight end Benjie Calvillo and a 27-yard touchdown strike to Brown to take a 27-7 lead at halftime.
North kept Shadow Mountain around by committing 29 penalties that negated scoring plays and stalled drives. Matadors sophomore wide receiver Arturo Nubez returned a 98-yard kick return to make the score 13-7.
The momentum shift did not last long as the Mustangs never relinquished the lead. On their opening drive of the second half, North overcame a false start and holding penalty and converted a fourth-and-7 on the Matador’ 11-yard line. Miller completed a sweep pass to Aldana for an 11-yard touchdown to complete the 13-play, 96-yard drive to increase the lead to 33-7.
“They did a tremendous job to push through and persevere through a lot of those penalty drives,” Mejia said. “It showed on the 96-yard drive in the third quarter.”
The Matadors struggled to score after finding their offensive rhythm last week. On their opening drive, Shadow Mountain drove 59 yards into the Mustangs’ territory, but sophomore quarterback Nico Alvarez threw an interception in the red zone. He finished the night completing 10 of 23 passes for 74 yards, rushing for a touchdown and was sacked six times. Shadow Mountain turned the ball over four times, including Nubez fumbling the ball in Mustangs territory after getting stripped by senior cornerback Amir Williams.
“We had to make sure our front was going to create some pressure and make them one-dimensional,” Mejia said. “(If) we forced them to throw the ball, we knew they were going to struggle.”
Alvarez threw another interception in the third quarter to Brown, and Alvarez was strip-sacked by junior defensive end Jaylen Grant that led to a 50-yard fumble return touchdown by Herrera to give the Mustangs a 46-7 lead.
“(Alvarez) wants to see that the guy is wide open before throwing the ball versus getting the ball out of his hands and trusting that the guy’s going to be there,” Matadors coach Ron Fagan said. “We just got to keep (learning) and get more reps.
“If we get more reps, we can get it to be more muscle memory to where it is automatic.”
The Matadors (0-4) will visit the Washington Rams (2-2) at 7 p.m. Friday. Meanwhile, the Mustangs (3-2) will play at Tolleson (2-3) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 502 – Journalism Skills at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at: firstname.lastname@example.org.