Red Mesa converts two interceptions taking win over Pinon

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

RED MESA, Ariz., Oct. 3, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Pinon’s Zachary Cody secures the football in an attempt to avoid a fumble against Tyrone Chilly of Red Mesa on Sept. 27 in Red Mesa, Ariz.

BOTTOM: Pinon Eagle Sheldon Natoni (21) miscalculates the pass as Red Mesa Redskin Rishundo Harvey (80) looks on Friday night in Red Mesa, Ariz.

Part of being a defensive-minded coach is knowing when to take a gamble.

That is one of Toqua-Hanai Ticeahkieand's guiding principles when he wants to systematically break down the opposing team's offense.

"My expertise is defense," the first-year Red Mesa head football coach said. "Our defensive model is about applying pressure and as a coach I do take gambles. But there is a difference between a calculated risk and a calculated tactic."

In their game with Pinon on Sept. 27, Ticeahkieand employed the tactical version for much of the first half. But with the game on the line, he opted to take a few more risks as Red Mesa forced a pair of punts and returned two interceptions for scores to secure a 34-28 win.

"Fortunately for us it paid off," said Ticeahkieand, who played professionally on four different teams including the New Mexico Wildcats (now known as the Stars) and the Arizona Adrenaline.

"A lot of the things I'm teaching these guys is pro style defensive stuff so a lot of our schemes is geared at confusing the offense," Ticeahkieand said. "We run about five different types of formations and part of my job is figure out what works and what doesn't."

With 3:55 left in the third quarter, Red Mesa defensive back Keano King intercepted a Pinon pass from Zachary Cody and returned it 40 yards as the Redskins took the lead for good at 22-20.

Red Mesa tacked on two more scores in the fourth quarter, one from senior quarterback Steven Henderson as he connected with Owen King for a 41-yard touchdown pass that gave the home team a 28-20 lead with 9:50 to go.

"I think we did pretty good," Henderson said, who threw 3 touchdown passes. "All the wide receivers ran their routes like they were supposed to. The line held their defense and everyone did their job. Basically it was just textbook. We just made the plays develop."

Red Mesa's defense came up with a big stop in the final moments as Pinon reached the home team's 12-yard line thanks to a 15-yard pass interference call.

Pinon senior running back Lanshawn Begay then added a six-yard gain before the Redskins' defense took over.

Red Mesa forced the Eagles back three yards on its next play before sophomore Keshian Brady picked off Pinon backup quarterback Michael Yazzie and returned it for 95 yards for a 34-20 cushion with 1:31 to go.

"They made a mistake and we capitalized on it," Ticeahkieand said.

Nonetheless, in the game's waning moments the Eagles made things a bit interesting as sophomore Marcus Bahe returned a 67-yard kickoff return for a TD that cut Red Mesa's lead down to 34-28 with just over a minute to go.

The Eagles then tried an onside kick but Red Mesa recovered it at their own 40-yard line and ran out the clock.

"In football it's a battle and we kind of let our guard down," Ticeahkieand said of the crazy finish. "This game is a good example of it. Nobody is going to lie down for you; nobody is going give you the win. They battled to the very end and I commend their team and their coach for fighting."

Pinon, which opened the season with three tough opponents, was without Cameron Shepherd, their head coach. But based on their play he would have been happy as Pinon scored four TDs after being shutout 181-0 in its last three outings.

"I am so proud of my team, for what they accomplished tonight," Pinon assistant coach Josh Willis said. "Coming into the game we gave them two goals -- score a touchdown and win the game.

"Halfway through the game we accomplished one of those goals," he added. "In the second half we didn't accomplish our second goal but we have more games in the season to do that."

Offensively, Pinon was led by Cody as the senior quarterback completed 10-of-21 passes for 204 yards. He also ran the ball for 134 yards on 31 carries and scored three touchdowns before he hobbled to the sideline with an injury with 5:36 left in the game.

"The injuries hurt but Zachary Cody played a heck of a game," said Willis. "He had a great game. We were really focused on the run and now we are trying to balance out the run and pass. For him to step up and play the way he did tonight was awesome.

"Unfortunately he went down two times and the second time he was out for the rest of the night," he added.

Cody said this was the best game they've played all season and he's hoping this will carry over into their next game on Friday as the 0-4 Eagles host Rock Point.

"Lately we've been struggling on the offensive line but we've been getting stronger each week," Cody said. "I think by the end of the year we should be pretty good."

On Friday, Red Mesa will entertain Whitehorse, Utah in an interstate rivalry game as 25 miles separate the two schools.

Since starting the season at 0-3, the Redskins have won two straight games going into Friday's game.

"It wasn't easy going 0-3," Ticeahkieand said. "We got tested and we got some losses but the joy of victory isn't the same without the agony and the bitterness of defeat. We tasted defeat in those three games but that is part of turning this program around.

"We played bigger schools in our first three games," he added. "We were outmatched and outmanned but now that we are playing teams our size it's starting to show."

The Red Mesa coach expects another tough game but "I'll tell you what, we're going to beat Whitehorse (this) week and will follow that up with Many Farms and hopefully things will workout where we're playing ourselves into a playoff spot."

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