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Special teams getting job done for Red Mountain

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Red Mountain punter Riley Pagel prepares to punt against Mesa.(Darryl Webb/MyNewsMesa.com)

The Red Mountain coaches and Westview coaches got into a bit of a tussle after Friday’s game.

It stemmed mostly from the fact that Red Mountain was trying to build confidence in place-kicker Justin Huffman.

While Huffman has been perfect on 41 extra points, the senior is just 2 for 7 on field goal attempts with a long of 40, which came this past week against the Knights on the opening drive.

So, with the game in control at 31-7, and possession of the ball, Red Mountain sent Huffman out with around 20 seconds left in the game and the clock running. The Red Mountain special teams were unable to get set and get the snap off in time, so it never materialized.

Some heated words and shoving were exchanged after the handshakes, but cooler heads prevailed.

The attempt, however, did not.

“We were trying to get him going because as at some point we are going to need him,” Red Mountain coach Mike Peterson said. “I’ve told him that, too. He does well in practice and has a strong leg, but the games have been a different story.”

Special teams, coached by Josh Barge, as a whole has been strong for No. 7 Red Mountain (10-2) as it prepares to take on No. 3 Chandler (10-2) in Friday’s 6A Conference semifinal at Hamilton.

A team that has won 10 in a row isn’t likely to have a weak special teams. Red Mountain hasn’t given up a return touchdown all year, although Basha did score on a fake punt in the third game of the season.

Zach Molina averages 12.2 yards per punt return, and Jesus Vasquez is the main kick returner at 26.0 average on eight returns.

Red Mountain’s Kalim Reece-Peeplez (8) looks to break loose during this second quarter kickoff return. (Corey Cross/MyNewsMesa)

Long snapper Titus Pulliam and place-kicker holder Riley Pagel have been solid all year.

“I have to give a ton of credit to my snapper Titus because of the great job he’s done this year,” Pagel said.

Pagel, whose uncle Mike played quarterback in the NFL, was the East Valley Region first-team selection at punter with a 38.5 average on 46 punts with 22 inside the 20 and a long of 64.

The 64-yarder came in a critical time in the win over Westview when the game was still close and his effort suddenly had the Warriors inside their own 20.

“A lot of coaches like to go for it on fourth down, and we did a lot over the years,” Peterson said. “Me, being a defensive guy, I would rather try and flip the field. Riley can really boom it.”

Pagel, who started punting as a freshman, said a good punt is a lot like hitting a home run in that there is a sweet spot.

“When I get a good punt off I don’t really feel much besides being super relaxed,” he said. “It’s free flowing, and I also feel like I didn’t even try to kick it that hard.”

The punt coverage team has allowed 19 total return yards on 46 attempts.

There was a situation against Westview when Red Mountain was in position to go for it on fourth, but Peterson elected to punt it. Westview went three and out and punted back to Red Mountain.

The net gain was 18 yards.

“That’s a big swing in field position and I’ll take that every time,” Peterson said. “I know Riley is going to get it deep and we are going to get an advantage.”

– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to jskoda@mynewsmesa.com.

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