Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Pima’s Alec Judd stretches out for the Roughriders’ second touchdown of the night. The score was not quite enough as Pima fell to Bisbee in overtime, 12-18.
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – Good teams rise to the occasion when the game is on the line. The Bisbee Pumas (3-0 conference, 4-0 overall) just might be a good team.
That’s not to say Pima (2-2 conference, 2-2 overall) is not a good team, too, just that the Pumas made the plays when they had to in order to squeak out an 18-12 victory over the Roughriders at Edd Hubbard Field on Friday night that was literally decided by just inches.
Objectively, I can’t even say that I think the better team won or lost. Pima’s defense held the Bisbee offense in check for most of the game and the Roughriders’ offense had several long, sustained drives down the field. In the end, it was a couple of key turnovers, along with making the big play with the game on the line that gave the edge to the Pumas that night.
The main problem Pima had on the night was the number of turnovers it committed. The Roughriders lost the ball eight times on three fumbles, three times on downs, an interception, and an onside kick. That’s not to say Bisbee was much better as the Pumas turned the ball over seven times on a fumble, an interception, and five times on downs.
“I really felt like the difference in the game was our turnovers,” said Pima head coach John Bryant. “I felt like we turned the ball over too much . . . If we hadn’t of turned the ball over we would have dominated the game. But because of the turnovers, we allowed them the chance and they came through in overtime.”
Bisbee came into the game undefeated and walking through the teams as they warmed up it was obvious that the Pumas held a significant size advantage over the Roughriders.
Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald
Nonetheless, Pima started out the gate hot and on its third play from scrimmage, Alec Judd took a pitch to the right, broke a couple of tackles and streamed 44 yards to put Pima on the board 6-0. The 2-point conversion was no good.
“We knew we had an advantage on size, but we knew they have a lot of heart,” said Bisbee head coach Brian Vertrees. “We knew those guys were going to be scrappy (and that) they were going to play really fundamentally sound football and give us everything we can handle.”
Bisbee started its first drive from the 40-yard line but an encroachment penalty moved it to the 45 before the first offensive snap. A couple of run plays later, the Pumas were in Pima territory threatening to score, but the Roughriders’ defense made three consecutive stops to force a 4th-down and 11. R.J. Wright threw a pass to Dano Lopez, but he only got 10 yards on the play and Pima took over on its own 25 on the turnover on downs.
Pima returned the favor by turning the ball over on downs on its next possession after Rector failed to convert a quarterback bootleg on 4th-and-2.
Bisbee went to the air on its second possession and found success as D’Marco Chavez and Dano Lopez made good yards after their receptions to put the Pumas in scoring position as the first quarter ended.
Bisbee was facing a 4th-and-inches from about the 1-yard line when Pima jumped offside. The penalty made it 1st-and-goal with only inches to go and Wright took it in standing up on a quarterback sneak to tie the game, 6-6, early in the second quarter.
Pima responded well with a big kickoff return, followed up by a nice pickup on a screen pass to Judd. However, on 4th-and-6 deep in the Red Zone, there was a bad exchange between the center and quarterback and Bisbee’s Tyler Schasteen recovered the fumble.
Bisbee managed to move the ball to midfield, but Pima’s defense stepped up again and stopped them on 4th-and-1 from the Roughriders’ own 48-yard line.
However, Pima would lose another fumble on its ensuing possession and the teams entered halftime knotted up at 6 apiece after Bisbee’s possession ended in an INT by Teddy Rector on a deep pass on 3rd-and-short.
It was deja vu all over again at the start of the third quarter as the Roughriders benefited from good starting field possession after their defense stuffed the Pumas on 4th-and-short in Bisbee’s own territory.
Pima moved the ball downfield and was set up to score after Rector rounded the right side on a QB keeper for a big gain. (28) then finished the drive with a 3-yard plunge into the endzone. Pima tried a spread offense on the 2-point conversion and had a man open but Trevor Pruszynski just couldn’t hang onto the ball. Pima led 12-6, but the dropped conversion attempt would come back to haunt them.
On the ensuing kickoff, it seemed nobody could bring down Lopez, who went 57 yards to the Pima 38 yard line. On the Puma’s second offensive play of the series, Wright hit Manny Amaya for a screen pass, and he turned it upfield 34 yards for the TD. The 2-point conversion pass was broken up by Rector, and the teams were knotted up at 12 apiece.
Bisbee successfully recovered the ensuing onside kick, but just as they were driving deep in the Red Zone, Gavin Garcia popped Wright during a quarterback sneak up the middle, causing a fumble that was recovered by the Roughriders.
Pima lost the ball on a fumble on its next set of downs, however, and Bisbee looked to capitalize.
The Pumas moved the ball down into the Red Zone, but Wright got rocked by Caleb Barlow on a pass attempt and had to leave the game. Hunter Perry relieved him at quarterback, and his two runs went nowhere as the defense held and Bisbee turned the ball over on downs.
“Our defense played great,” Bryant said. “We had a few guys that got kind of dinged up and they had to come out at critical moments which kind of hurt us. But I’m proud of my boys. They played as hard as they could.”
Starting deep in its own territory, Rector heaved a deep pass to Kaleb Blair, who came down with it to give Pima the ball just inside of Bisbee’s territory.
The feeling throughout the crowd was one of optimism as Pima took care of the ball and appeared to be on its way to a winning touchdown after picking up 1st-and-10 from about the 15-yard line.
However, on fourth down, Rector fired a screen pass and the Pumas sniffed it out to forces the turnover on downs with only minutes left to play.
Bisbee ran out of time while attempting to traverse nearly the entire field, and with 14 seconds left Rector intercepted Wright.
With only 4 seconds in regulation, Rector attempted a Hail Mary pass but it was intercepted and the teams went into overtime.
In high school, the overtime rules micro those of college, except that both teams start from the 10-yard line and have four downs to score.
It looked like Pima would stop Bisbee during its possession in overtime but on 4th-and-goal from the 15, Wright hit Lopez with a toss to the left side and the senior wide receiver made two Roughriders miss and just made it over the goal line for the score. The ensuing 2-point conversion was no good, but Bisbee was up 18-12 with Pima having one last turn to tie or win.
“It was just thinking in that situation our most explosive player’s best play down on the goal line and so we ran the comeback,” Vertrees said.
On 3rd-and-long, Judd took the handoff and stretched out but was marked down just short of the end zone at the 1-yard line.
The Bisbee defensive line then stopped Rector’s QB sneak attempt as he got only half a yard and the Pumas showed their elation in their overtime victory.
“These Pima guys are a class act football team,” Vertrees said. “Very clean, hard-nosed football. It’s just a pleasure to come out here and play them . . . Coach Bryant has done a great job with them. They present a lot of challenges. I wish them the best of luck. They’ve got a tough division but they’re a good football team with a lot of mental toughness, so I think they’ll be alright.”
Pima will host the Tombstone Yellow Jackets (1-3 conference, 1-3 overall) for its homecoming Friday, Sept. 27, starting at 7 p.m.
In other local prep action:
The Safford Bulldogs (2-1 conference, 2-2 overall) destroyed the Show Low Cougars (1-1 conference, 3-2 overall), 45-8. Safford will host the Florence Gophers (1-3 conference, 1-3 overall) on Friday, Sept. 27.
The Thatcher Eagles (1-0 conference, 3-1 overall) gave the Benson Bobcats (3-1 conference, 3-1 overall) their first loss of the season, 34-12. Thatcher will next travel to Eloy to take on the Santa Cruz Valley Dust Devils (1-1 conference, 4-1 overall) on Friday, Sept. 27.
The Morenci Wildcats (2-2 conference, 2-2 overall) fell to at Eloy Santa Cruz, 7-28. Morenci will next host Bisbee on Friday, Sept. 27.
The Fort Thomas Apaches (2-3 conference, 2-3 overall) lost to the St. David Tigers (2-2 conference, 2-2 overall), 20-28. Fort Thomas will next travel to take on the Valley Union Blue Devils (1-4 conference, 1-4 overall) on Friday, Sept. 27.