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Mitchell leads strong Cibola run game
Last year: 8-3 overall, lost 33-14 to Pinnacle in the first round of the Division I state playoffs
Top returners: Jordan Mitchell, RB/FS, sr.; Lucky Arvizo Jr., QB/DB, jr.; Brody Arviso, TE/LB, sr.; Ramon Heredia, C/DL, sr.; Manny Zazueta, DL, sr.; Alex Moreno, CB/RB, sr.; Josh Hansen, LB/FB, jr.; Jacob Hansen, LB/OL, jr.
Key newcomer: Michael Decorse-Hall, WR, soph.
The Big Game: Last season, the Raiders lost a heartbreaking game 35-31 at Sunnyside in Tucson. This year, Sunnyside comes to town for Cibola’s homecoming. Considering Sunnyside made it to the Division I state tournament as the No. 12 seed, Cibola’s Oct. 12 matchup against the Blue Devils will be a good litmus test to see where Cibola stands compared to some of the top teams in the state.
Cibola coach Lucky Arvizo Sr.’s comments: “We saw some improvement with (Arvizo Jr.) and the receivers, as far as getting on the same page. We’ve progressed quite nicely in the passing department.”
The lowdown: The big question mark for the Raiders on offense this year will be the wide receivers. With arguably one of the best running backs in the state in Mitchell, opposing teams will be focused on trying to stop the run — which opens up Arvizo Jr. to throw the ball. If the receivers can get open and catch the ball, that will keep the defense honest and open up the field for Mitchell — which will translate into another chance in the state playoffs for the Raiders.
Schedule (all times 7 p.m. unless noted):
Aug. 24 at Lake Havasu
Aug. 31 at Imperial
Sept. 7 vs. Yuma High
Sept. 14 vs. Kofa
Sept. 21 at Brawley
Sept. 28 at Corona Del Sol
Oct. 5 vs. San Luis
Oct. 12 vs. Sunnyside
Oct. 19 vs. Gila Ridge
Oct. 26 at San Luis
— Jesse Severson
Last year against Gila Ridge, Cibola running back Jordan Mitchell walked off the field after putting in a full-night's work.
The 6-foot, 203-pound workhorse carried the ball 39 times for 324 yards in a 28-0 win over the Hawks. Now entering his senior year, Mitchell is preparing himself to carry a heavier load to help Cibola pick up its first state playoff win under coach Lucky Arvizo.
“I prepare myself for things like that. That's why I prepare in practice so I'm not so beat up after the game,” said Mitchell, who had more than 25 carries four times last season. “I'm always going to be there for my team when they need me.”
Mitchell, who finished last year with 1,615 yards and 19 touchdowns, has also bulked up since a season ago by working out more than he did as a junior. However, he feels the added strength won't compromise his quickness.
“I don't want to get too big to where it takes away my speed. With the season starting up, I'm sure I'll get my speed back,” Mitchell said.
After a breakout sophomore season in which he led the state in rushing and a stellar junior year, opposing defenses are sure to load the box with defenders again in hopes to contain Mitchell. Benefiting from this will be junior quarterback Lucky Arvizo Jr., who says he feels more comfortable now that he's an upperclassman.
“I'm much better as far as knowing my plays and I know my team a lot better. The first game I didn't think I was going to play much. I thought I was going to throw up before the first game,” Arvizo Jr. said. He managed to calm down enough to finish the year completing 60-percent of his passes and threw 19 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
“(Mitchell) has a good supporting cast with this team. Our ability to throw the ball will keep defenses more balanced instead of having eight or nine guys in the box trying to stop Jordan Mitchell,” Arvizo Sr. said.
A big question mark coming into the season, which opens Aug. 24 at Lake Havasu, will be replacing a talented core of receivers who graduated last season. The only returners with any reception yardage is Mitchell, who had two catches, and senior tight end Brody Arviso, who caught one pass for 22 yards.
“There's a lot of young guys stepping up because we lost a lot of key players,” Arviso said.
With main deep-threat Deante Gaines gone from last year's team, Arvizo Sr. has a laundry list of candidates to help fill the void — Arviso, 6-foot-4 junior Richard Ott, sophomore Michael Decorse-Hall and sophomore Isaiah Brown.
“Deante was a very good deep threat. But we got a couple of guys working hard to fill that position. Obviously it's big shoes to fill,” Arvizo Sr. said. “We look forward to throwing a little more this season, we have several wide receivers we can throw to.”
While most of the receivers from last season are gone, the Raiders bring back three linemen to help block for Mitchell and Arvizo Jr. Senior Ramon Heredia will anchor the line at center, with senior guard Jeremy Price and junior guard Samuel Charles beside him.
“We're quicker so I'm sure we'll do a lot of good running plays,” Heredia said about the offensive line.
On defense, the Raiders lost several of their linebackers and hope they can replace them with Arviso and juniors Josh Hansen and Jacob Hansen.
“We lost a lot of linebackers from last year, but we do have guys that were backups that should help us,” Arvizo Sr. said.
Cibola has made the state tournament the past four seasons only to be knocked out in the first round. Last year, it was a 33-14 loss at No. 6 Pinnacle. The Pioneers contained Mitchell to 20 carries for 68 yards, his lowest total of the season. However, with Mitchell, Arvizo Jr. and a trio of lineman back, the Raiders hope that this is the year they finally put an end to the playoff dry spell.
“The past two years we thought we had a good chance to break that streak and make history at Cibola,” Arviso said about the loss to Pinnacle and the 35-7 loss to Lake Havasu in 2010. “We need to work a little bit harder.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881. Find him at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson