SAHUARITA, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Week 0 was a much harder bargain than Sahuaro imagined.
The Division II Cougars were pushed to the edge by Division IV Sahuarita before the Mustangs succumbed in a 21-18 home loss at Kelly Stadium in the Coaches for Charity Kickoff Classic.
Sahuaro took the early 7-0 lead when defensive tackle Andrew Filiberti bum rushed Sahuarita quarterback Damion Hill off the snap, forcing a fumble at the goal line, which he would also recover for a touchdown.
The Mustangs found their ground attack in the second quarter behind new running back Dylan Dutton.
Dutton busted a 26-yard run before he carried five Cougar defenders into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Sahuarita led 10-7 at the half thanks to a 30-yard field goal by Gabe Hernandez but it could have been so much more. Sahuaro's defense came up huge again on the final play of the half. Defensive back Casey Cargnaghi and linebacker Alec Valenzuela stopped Dutton at the one inch line just short of a second touchdown.
The Cougars found their passing game in the third quarter. Stephen Miller hit Jacob Miller for 29 yards on a critical 3rd down and 11 to keep a drive alive. Two players later, Miller connected with Ernesto Loreto for a 41-yard touchdown to give Sahuaro a lead they would never relinquish.
The Cougars upped their advantage to 21-10 on a 30-yard touchdown run by Valenzuela with 4:50 to play.
Sahuarita narrowed the margin to three on a late TD strike from Damion Hill to Allyn Williams and a two-point conversion, but never got the ball back again as Valenzuela ran for a pair of first downs to kill the clock.
The Cougars return home next Friday night for their rivalry game against Sabino while Sahuarita gets another home Division II test when Salpointe Catholic makes the trek down I-19.
Elsewhere Thursday night, Flowing Wells opened their season with an impressive 54-0 win over Palo Verde. Senior tailback Dionte Flores ran for three touchdowns.