Bulldogs welcome Wildcats to Safford on Friday

Senior quarterback Daylen Johnson calls his own number from time to time, averaging 9.5 (4-38) yards against Tanque Verde. Morenci (2-0) visits Safford (1-1) on Friday, Sept. 2.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

SAFFORD – The Bob Parks-coached 1-1 Safford Bulldogs host the Joseph Garcia-coached 2-0 Morenci Wildcats Friday at 7 p.m. The teams have not met on Herman B.B. Andrews Track and Field since 2014.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci’s offensive linemen, totaling 13 varsity letters between them, have opened up holes and made blocks allowing averages of 8.5 (80-683) yards per carry and 13.6 (5-68) yards per catch. Running through pre-game warm-ups are, from left, junior tight end Tristen Sanchez (82), senior tackle Gabriel Hernandez (73), junior guard Austyn Nelson (53), senior center Jarel Diaz (65), junior guard Andrew Chavez (54), and senior tackle Jalen Kitcheyan (78).

Four consecutive 21st Century pairings resulted in three wins with an average score per game of 25-18 (101-70) or a 7-point margin for the Bulldogs. The wins were 26-14 (2011) and 22-13 both in Safford (2013) and a 32-13 Safford win in Morenci (2014). The loss was 21-29 in Morenci during 2012 when the Wildcats went on to finish as state runners-up.

Safford has a 7-0 active win streak at home against Morenci since 1978, averaging a 21-10 (147-70) score per game or 11-point margin. Since Morenci switched to the 2A Class in 1982, the average margin has been 12 points or a 22-10 (105-50) score per game.

Last season, the Bulldogs finished 6-5 overall, 1-3 in the region, averaging a 20-27 (215-292) score per game or a 7-point deficit. The No. 3 Chandler Valley Christian Eagles ended the No. 14 Bulldogs’ season with a 49-point state meet first-round shutout.

Morenci finished 11-3 (.786) overall and 4-1 (.800) for 2nd in the region, averaging a 33-15 (467-214) score per game or an 18-point margin. The No. 4 Wildcats ended as state runners-up to the No.2 Phoenix Arizona Lutheran Coyotes with a 14-28 loss.

Safford posted a combined 55-50 (.524) record during the previous 10-year span (2011-20) while Morenci went 82-40 (.672).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Patrick Chavez outruns Tanque Verde senior defender Brayden Scott (41) en route to a long gain. The Morenci senior fullback averaged 7.1 (12-85) yards against the Hawks.

Thus far this season, Safford has averaged a 20-30 (41-59) score per game or a 10-point deficit while Morenci has averaged a 37-3 (74-6) score per game or a 27-point margin. The Bulldogs defeated Phoenix Christian 27-20 (Aug. 19) and fell 3-41 to Pima (Aug. 26). The Wildcats have allowed a lone touchdown in wins of 30-6 over Scottsdale Christian (Aug. 19) and 44-0 over Tucson Tanque Verde (Aug. 26).

As per Maxpreps, Morenci has totaled 751 offensive yards, 683 on 80 carries, and 68 on five receptions with averages of 8.5 yards per carry and 13.6 yards per catch. Safford has 499 yards, 269 on 52 carries plus 230 on 19 receptions with averages of 5.2 yards per carry and 12.1 yards per catch. 

Other pairings for Morenci’s 2022 opponents have 1-1 Scottsdale Christian hosting 1-1 Fountain Hills, 0-1 Tanque Verde hosting 0-1 Phoenix Valley Lutheran, 1-0 Willcox (Sept. 16) hosting 1-1 Gilbert Christian, 0-1 Tombstone (Sept. 23) at 1-0 Maricopa Sequoia Pathway, 1-0 Globe (Sept. 30) hosting 0-1 Queen Creek American Leadership – Ironwood, 2-0 Gilbert San Tan Charter (Oct. 7) at 1-1 Queen Creek San Tan Foothills, 1-1 Miami (Oct. 14) hosting 1-1 Payson, 0-1 San Carlos (Oct. 21) idle, and 1-0 Pima (Oct. 28) at 2-0 Thatcher.

Week 1 wins were 25-8 for Scottsdale Christian over Laveen Heritage, 41-3 for  Pima over Safford, 39-14 for Willcox over Gilbert Christian, 40-0 for Globe over Tucson Santa Rita, 40-20 for San Tan Charter over Phoenix Veritas Prep, 27-19 for Miami over Chandler Prep, and 55-8 for Phoenix NFL Yet over San Carlos. Tombstone was idle.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The student section of the stands had a large gathering. Members took a break to indulge in snacks and conversation during halftime of the home game with Tanque Verde.

Week 0 results had Safford 27-20 over Phoenix Christian, Tombstone falling 16-20 to Benson, and San Tan Charter 46-21 over Miami. Globe, Pima, San Carlos, and Willcox were idle.

Next week, The Bulldogs host Tucson Pueblo (Sept. 9) and host Thatcher (Sept. 16), visit Tucson Sabino (Sept. 23), host Tucson Palo Verde Magnet (Oct. 7) and Payson (Oct. 14), and visit Benson (Oct. 21) and Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian (Oct. 28).

The Wildcats are idle (Sept. 9), host Willcox (Sept. 16), visit Tombstone (Sept. 23), host Globe (Sept. 30), visit San Tan Charter (Oct. 7), Miami (Oct. 14), and San Carlos (Oct. 21) prior to the regular season home finale with Pima (Oct. 28).

Morenci – 44, Tanque Verde – 0

A 16-0 halftime score had 28 third-quarter points added. Neither team scored in the first or fourth quarters.

“What helped us is we had already played a game,” Garcia summarized.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Family members of the football team seniors help display images of their loved ones prior to the start of home games.

The visiting Hawks received the opening kickoff, punted on their first two possessions after eight plays netting 33 yards in the first quarter. They were intercepted, stopped short on fourth down, and dropped for a loss during twice as many offensive plays in the second quarter. The yardage gained was two-thirds less.

On the other side of the ball, the host Wildcats punted on their initial possession after losing a yard in six plays, covered 55 yards in 10 plays and 20 yards in four plays, and punted after gaining 16 yards in six plays. Junior Michael Casillas crossed the goal line from three and eight yards. The first with 3:43 elapsed in the second quarter and the second with 3:32 left before halftime. Junior Tristen Sanchez added a conversion run and senior Derek Saenz connected with junior Joseph Seballos for a conversion pass.

Penalties accounted for 55 yards assessed on Morenci and 40 yards on Tanque Verde, both numbering four for each team.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Tyler Lewis performs with the Pride Band as it took the field for its initial outing. The Morenci senior percussionist is one of 10 Class of 2023 members in the group.

The Wildcats received the second-half kickoff, netted 61 yards before fumbling, and covered 55 yards in six plays, 80 yards in one play, 30 yards in two plays, and 17 yards in one play during the third quarter.

Casillas scored a third TD on a 35-yard run with a Saenz to junior Austyn Nelson conversion pass (24-0), Saenz sprinted 80 yards following a 5-yard penalty (30-0), Sanchez caught a Johnson pass for a 23-yard TD and Nelson added the conversion kick (37-0), and senior Dillen Aker ran 17 yards with Nelson adding the conversion kick for the final score. Aker’s run prompted a running clock during the rest of the game.

Morenci’s fourth quarter possession netted 76 of 78 yards before turning the ball over on downs.

Tanque Verde had six second-half possessions, four in the third quarter and two in the fourth.

The Hawks gained more yards on their initial second-half possession in half as many carries than the entire first half. They netted 44 yards on nine plays before an incomplete pass turned the ball over, gained 16 yards in three plays before throwing an interception, fumbled on the kickoff return, and lost 18 yards on a bad snap punt attempt after three plays.

An incomplete pass resulted after picking up seven yards on their fifth possession and time expired after gaining 14 yards with three plays on their final possession.

Morenci gained 438 yards with nine different Wildcats advancing the ball to earn 11 first downs. The breakdown was 374 yards on 40 carries and 64 with two pass receptions. Six different Wildcats scored. Return yards numbered 32.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Austyn Nelson (53) moves ahead of Tanque Verde sophomore Delon Harrison (24) to bring him down. The Morenci junior was one of two Wildcats totaling eight tackles on the night.

Saenz averaged 41.0 (2-82) yards per carry, senior Dillen Aker 16.0 (1-16) yards, senior Daylen Johnson 9.5 (4-38) yards, Casillas 8.0 (16-128) yards, senior Patrick Chavez 7.1 (12-85) yards, sophomore Marcus Lucero 5.3 (4-21) yards, and freshman Julien Aragon 4.0 (1-4) yards.

Johnson completed 4-8 passes for 64 yards with no interception. Sanchez averaged 25.0 (2-50) yards per catch and senior Gavin Baca 7.5 (2-15) yards.

Casillas rushed for three touchdowns, Aker and Saenz both rushed for a TD, Sanchez caught a pass for a TD and added a conversion run, junior Austyn Nelson added a conversion run and two conversion kicks, and junior Joseph Seballos caught a conversion pass.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The final score of the home game with Tanque Verde was a fifth opponent shutout by Morenci under Coach Garcia. The Wildcats also blanked Tucson Santa Rita 42-0 (Aug. 30, 2019), Phoenix North Pointe Prep 76-0 (Oct. 2, 2020), Globe 55-0 (Sept. 10, 2021), and Phoenix Madison Highland Prep 76-0 (Sept. 17, 2021). Morenci has been kept out of the end zone once in the same span, by Saint Johns 0-49 (Nov. 1, 2019).

Defensively, 18 Wildcats totaled 68 tackles (42 solo, 26 assisted). A week earlier against Scottsdale Christian, 12 Wildcats accounted for 35 tackles (22 solo, 13 assisted).

Chavez (3 solo, 5 assisted) and Nelson (7 solo, 1 assisted) both totaled eight tackles, junior Donovan Vozza seven (3 solo, 4 assisted), Sanchez six (5 solo, 1 assisted), and both Baca (5 assisted) and senior Rick Funari (2 solo, 3 assisted) five apiece. Sanchez and Vozza both had two quarterback sacks; Johnson, freshman Derick Lytle, Nelson, and Vozza each recovered a fumble, and Aker intercepted a pass.

Meanwhile, Tanque Verde had eight first downs in recording 115 offensive yards with nine different players. The yardage was 88 on 27 carries and 29 on three receptions. The Hawks totaled 105 return yards.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci football players hoist their helmets as they sing the school fight song following the game.

Sophomore Delon Harrison averaged 7.0 (2-14) yards per carry, junior Grayson Bradshaw 4.1 (3-14) yards, senior Brayden Scott 3.7 (12-44) yards, junior Gavin Gilbert 3.7 (3-11) yards, junior Michel McKenna 1.5 (2-3) yards, junior Toby Herfkens 1.0 (1-1) yards, and senior James Torok 0.5 (4-2) yards.

Herfkens completed 1-5 passes for 16 yards with an interception and Bradshaw 2-9 passes for 13 yards with an interception. Bradshaw caught a pass for 16 yards, Harrison 1-8, and sophomore Kason White 1-5.

Defensively, the Hawks totaled 86 tackles (59 solo, 37 assisted) with 16 different players. Scott (8 solo, 4 assisted) and Gilbert (7 solo, 5 assisted) both had 12, senior Tyler walker eight (5 solo, 3 assisted), Torok (3 solo, 4 assisted), and senior Brendon Vimmerstedt (2 solo, 5 assisted) seven each, and junior Nicholas Coryell, junior Eli Clausen, and McKenna five (3 solo, 2 assisted) apiece. Gilbert recorded a sack and senior Race Erickson a fumble recovery.