Horizon football gaining steam after tough start to season

Senior Nash Giffen takes the handoff from senior Isaac Enriquez during the Huskies’ 58-7 win over the Chargers. (Photo Courtesy of Matt Bucko)

It’s been an up-and-down ride for the Horizon High School football team through the first five games of the season.

The Huskies faced a gauntlet in the opening three weeks of the season against Marana (4-1), Pinnacle (4-1) and Higley (5-1) high schools. All three of those games resulted in losses, though by an average margin on nine points.

Then the Huskies found their footing with wins against Sunnyslope (2-3) and McClintock (3-3) high schools, putting them on track to potentially claim stake in the 5A playoffs. To get there, Horizon still has five more games including 2017 5A state runner-up Notre Dame Preparatory.

When looking at the schedule, Horizon Head Coach Ty Wisdom said while he never expects to lose a game, he did know he had a front-loaded schedule. What he wanted to see, he said, was his team improve each game and he believes playing those tough games early will help the Huskies reach their potential.

“When you get that competition early, you’re playing playoff football in August against teams,” Coach Wisdom said. “It helps us understand the speed and what we have to play at so it gets the kids to practice at that level.”

Since those opening games, Coach Wisdom said he has seen improvements on both sides of the ball.

Senior Isaac Enriquez tries to fend off the McClintock tackler during the Huskies’ 58-7 win over the Chargers. (Photo Courtesy of Matt Bucko)

His offense, which Coach Wisdom described as option football, features a heavy rushing formation with seniors Issac Enriquez, Nash Giffen and Chris Grillo, as well as junior Jake Martinelli, all playing key parts.

Prior to Horizon’s Sept. 28 game against North Canyon High School, Grillo, Giffen and Enriquez all have more than 400 rushing yards a piece. Enriquez leads the way with 491 and 11 rushing touchdowns. Grillo has five touchdowns.

The trick to making the run game work, Enriquez said, is keeping the three rushers fresh, which is where Martinelli comes in at times.

“(Martinelli) comes in and gives me a break when I need it,” Enriquez said. “I can then go to running back if Chris or Nash need a break. It really just gives us a break from running back to quarterback so we always have someone fresh in there.”

Furthermore, Giffen said the three running backs are close since they’ve all been playing this format since they were freshmen. Coach Wisdom called all three “great leaders.”

That senior backfield is behind a lesser-experienced offensive line after the team lost the likes of Justin Segura and Isaiah Mursalet, both of whom are on New Mexico State’s roster.

Coach Wisdom said this year’s linemen only play one way, allowing them to better focus on their position and make improvements as the season progresses.

“They’re working well together,” Coach Wisdom said. “How one goes, they all go and as an offensive line, Coach (Clayton) Walker’s really got them going in the right direction.”

Defensively, the Huskies have shown improvements as they went from allowing an average of 43 points in their first three games to keeping Sunnyslope to 28 and McClintock to 7.

Sophomore Elijah Mursalet tackles the McClintock ball carrier during the Huskies’ 58-7 win over the Chargers. (Photo Courtesy of Matt Bucko)

Giffen said he thought the game against Higley was better for the team defensively. He still believes the defensive unit needs to be more consistent in its efforts.

As far as growth, Giffen said he’s noticed the older players settling into leadership roles to help younger players. Coach Wisdom counts at least seven sophomores who are in the defensive rotation, particularly on the defensive line.

“We’re rotating guys in that were playing freshman football last year,” he said. “That’s a big jump when you’re playing Higley and Pinnacle right off the bat.”

Overall, the Huskies still have ground to cover to reach the postseason and plant their flag in their new region.

After a recent practice, Coach Wisdom had his players kneeling around him in a huddle as he addressed them. He told them to keep practicing with a chip on their shoulder and the attitude he saw there that day.

Giffen said he interpreted that to mean an underdog mentality that the team had in its first three games. It’s true those games didn’t result in wins but they were close, Giffen said, and Horizon eventually got wins on the board.

“We’re hungry now,” Giffen said. “We’re ready to get our wins. Section (region) looks good. We’re excited to face these teams.

“It’s going to be good.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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