Frank Gonzales ran for four touchdowns and Cristian Vega added two more – including a 95-yard breakaway – as the Rio Rico Hawks came on strong in the second half to defeat the Empire Ravens 44-14 on Friday at RRHS.
The Hawks rushed for an astounding 491 yards in the game – 237 by Vega and 224 by Gonzales, both on 19 carries – and racked up a total of 503 offensive yards on their way to victory in their 2019 home opener.
Gonzales credited his teammates for his big performance, especially his offensive line for opening holes for him to run through.
“When I saw those holes, I knew my teammates had my back,” he said.
The game didn’t start well for Rio Rico, as Empire’s Yani Brown carried the ball 67 yards into the end zone on the first play after kickoff. The extra point made the score 7-0 Ravens after just 16 seconds of action.
Meanwhile, the Hawks’ offense was inconsistent out the gate, turning the ball over on an interception in the end zone to halt one promising drive. But they finally evened the score on a touchdown run by Gonzales and an extra point kick by Gabriel Romero-Davis with 2:21 left in the half.
With the game deadlocked at halftime, senior lineman Josiah Medina said, the Rio Rico players received an inspiring pep talk in the locker room.
“Our coach mentioned these two boxers and about how one of them had been a bit stronger and faster, and the other one, he was just able to take blows,” Medina said. “And he told us, ‘Listen, you’re going to go out there, and you’ve got to keep taking the blows, you’ve got to keep going and finish.’ And he was telling us to hold the rope. That’s our biggest thing, holding the rope.”
The Hawks responded by driving deep into Empire territory to start the second half. An eight-yard run by Vega – one of several big gains he made on the drive – put the ball on the Ravens’ four-yard line. Gonzales took the handoff from quarterback Edryann Rodriguez on the next play for a touchdown. A PAT by Romero-Davis put Rio Rico ahead 14-7 with 9:28 left in the third quarter.
A little more than three minutes later, Empire tied it at 14 after another long touchdown run by Brown.
It was all Rio Rico after that.
Gonzales ran the ball in from 40 yards with 3:20 left in the period, and two minutes after that, Vega broke free on a play from his own five-yard line and ran the length of the field for a touchdown.
On the next defensive sequence, the Hawks recorded consecutive sacks – one by Bryant Sosa and Alan Morgan, and another by Medina – as they maintained the momentum and forced Empire to go three-and-out.
Moments later, Vega took the ball 44 yards into the end zone. The PAT made it 35-14 Rio Rico.
Cade Fanning intercepted an Empire pass on the next possession to put the ball back in the Hawks’ hands, and Gonzales scored his fourth and final touchdown on a 36-yard run with 10:42 left in the game.
The senior back’s exploits earned him appreciative “Frank the tank!” chants from the RRHS student section throughout the game, and he acknowledged the support afterward.
“It felt amazing. It felt like I really belonged here at Rio Rico,” Gonzales said.
A 23-yard field goal by Romero-Davis with time running out produced the final score of 44-14.
Hawk fans rushed onto the field to congratulate the team, and the players celebrated on the sidelines with the cheerleaders as the band played the RRHS fight song.
“There’s a lot of people out here who have seen the old Rio Rico team, without Coach Kuhm and these players,” Medina said, referencing Kevin Kuhm, who returned as head coach this season after a 1-9 finish by Rio Rico in 2018. “To be able to come out here and show them the difference, and how much work that we’re putting in to make this a better football team, it’s amazing.”
Medina led the Hawks defense with six tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one recovered fumble. Gonzales and Vega, both two-way players, also had big games on defense, with Vega recording four tackles and Gonzales credited with five-and-a-half tackles and a shared sack. Anthony Amezaga also had four tackles.
The Hawks, who dropped their first game of the year on Aug. 23 at Pusch Ridge, are now 1-1 on the season. They’re set to play at Catalina on Sept. 6 and at Nogales on Sept. 13.