Cats welcome Jackets to new field Friday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Donovan Vozza (9) uses his blockers to gain some yardage against Pima. Defensively, the Morenci senior recovered a fumble and returned it 49 yards to set up the game’s initial score with 6:45 left in the first half. Morenci looks to rebound from the loss to Pima on the road with its home opener with its new artificial turf against Blue Ridge on Friday.

Morenci leaves Pima with an overtime loss

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Lakeside Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets will be the first opponent to enter Lawson Stadium with the redone artificial playing surface on Friday, Sept. 15. Wearing red and black will gain free admission, popcorn, and bottled water, a chance to win prizes and a Wildcat spirit pack. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is slated for 6:15 with kick-off set for 7 p.m.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A General Acrylics employee drives a spreader across the Lawson Stadium field. The weekend task was to put fine sand on the newly placed artificial football playing surface. The 3-1 Morenci Wildcats welcome the 3-1 Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets for their initial home game of the season on Friday, Sept. 15.

It will be the second meeting of the two teams since 1983 when both were 2A schools. The pairing was a state semifinal game won 22-0 by the Yellow Jackets. The next week, Blue Ridge shutout Florence 17-0 for the title and finished 11-0 that season. The school enrollment increased and it went up a class, ending as a state finalist 18 times with 13 titles and 10 undefeated campaigns (nine 13-0, one 14-0) from 1987 to 2013 under Paul Moro. In the ensuing nine seasons (2014-22), the Yellow Jackets posted a combined 1-6 post-season record.

Morenci was a 2A school from 1982-2022, going 24-25 in the post-season (1983-2022) and finishing as state runners-up five times, 1984 (9-3 overall under Jack Edens), 1992 (11-2 under Reynaldo Peru), 2012 (12-2 under Frank Ogas), 2021 (11-3 under Joseph Garcia), and 2022 (12-2 under Garcia).

Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets (3-1 overall, 0-0 region)

Blue Ridge brings a 3-1 record and average score per game of 46-14 (183-54) or 32-point margin into Lawson Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets have wins of  60-12 over 3A North Region Kayenta Monument Valley (Aug. 18), 38-14 over 2A Black Region Saint Johns (Aug. 25), and 58-0 over 3A North Region Fort Defiance Window Rock (Sept. 1). The loss was 27-28 to 4A Grand Canyon Region Cottonwood Mingus (Sept. 8).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A forklift is used by General Acrylics personnel to position sand-filled bags for unloading into a spreader.

Blue Ridge visits Safford (Sept. 22) and Fountain Hills (Sept. 29), hosts Payson (Oct. 13), visits Show Low (Oct. 20), and hosts Round Valley (Oct. 27) to complete its regular season schedule.

The Yellow Jackets are competing in the 3A East Region with Fountain Hills, Payson, Round Valley, and Show Low.

Morenci Wildcats (3-1, 0-0)

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Nevaeh Moreno helps cheer on the Wildcats in Pima. The senior is one of a 17-member Morenci Spirit Line.

The 3-1 Wildcats have averaged a 20-13 (81-25) score per game or 7-point margin in wins over Queen Creek American Leadership – Ironwood (6-0, Aug. 18), Eagar Round Valley (24-6, Aug. 25), and Benson (35-0, Sept. 1) along with a 16-19 overtime loss to Pima (Sept. 7).

Morenci’s region (3A South) schedule includes hosting Safford (Sept. 29), visiting Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian (Oct. 6), hosting Fountain Hills (Oct. 13) and Tucson Sabino (Oct. 20), and visiting Thatcher (Oct. 27).

The Wildcats are a combined 14-22-1 (.378) versus Sabino (1-0), Safford (8-20-1), and Thatcher (5-2) as a 3A team plus 11-39 (.220) versus Safford (2-8), Pusch Ridge (0-1), and Thatcher (9-30) as a 2A team.

Fountain Hills will meet Morenci for the first time, as did American Leadership – Ironwood.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Lucy Rogers plays the sheepskins for the Pima Band.

2023 Morenci opponents

Through four weeks of play, Morenci’s opponents, minus pairings with the Wildcats, are a combined 21-11 (.656).

Queen Creek American Leadership – Ironwood (2-2) fell 0-6 to Morenci (Aug. 18), defeated 4A Gila Region Douglas 28-2 (Aug. 25), fell 10-23 to 3A Metro East Region Gilbert Christian (Sept. 1), and defeated 4A Southwest Region Phoenix Sierra Linda 27-20 in overtime (Sept. 8),

Eagar Round Valley (1-2) fell 6-24 to Morenci (Aug. 25), defeated 2A Black Region Saint Johns 37-8 (Sept. 1), and fell 20-22 to 3A South Region Thatcher (Sept. 8).

Benson (2-2) fell 13-43 to 2A San Pedro Region Bisbee (Aug. 18), defeated 2A Salt Region Maricopa Sequoia Pathway 62-6 (Aug. 25), fell 0-35 to Morenci (Sept. 1), and defeated 2A Verde Region Phoenix Shadow Mountain 38-34 (Sept. 8).

Pima (3-0) defeated 3A South Region Safford 34-25 (Aug. 25), 2A Verde Region Scottsdale Christian 23-20 (Sept. 1), and Morenci 19-16 in overtime (Sept. 7)

Lakeside Blue Ridge (3-1) defeated 3A North Region Kayenta Monument Valley 60-12 (Aug. 18), 2A Black Region Saint Johns 38-14 (Aug. 25), 3A North Region Fort Defiance Window Rock 58-0 (Sept. 1), and fell 27-28 to 4A Grand Canyon Region Cottonwood Mingus (Sept. 8).

Safford (2-2) defeated 3A East Region Payson 35-14 (Aug. 18), fell 25-34 to 2A Black Region Pima (Aug. 25), fell 26-29 to 3A Central Region Florence (Sept. 1), and defeated 4A Gila Region Tucson Rincon/University 49-17 (Sept. 8).

Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian (3-0) defeated 3A East Region Show Low 24-21 (Aug. 25), 3A Metro East Region Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin 34-7 (Sept. 1), and 3A Metro West Region Yuma 38-14 (Sept. 8).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Freshman Avery Wiltbank, senior Kloe Polanco, and freshman Kirsten Farrell perform with the Morenci Pride Band. The trio will be in Lawson Stadium on hand under the direction of Roger Munoz for the Sept. 15 home game.

Fountain Hills (2-2) defeated 3A Metro West Region Yuma Kofa 37-13 (Aug. 18) and 3A Metro East Region Phoenix Bourgade Catholic 28-0 (Aug. 25), and fell 13-51 to 3A North Central Region Camp Verde (Sept. 1) and 24-58 to 4A East Sky Region Tempe Marcos de Niza 24-58 (Sept. 8).

Tucson Sabino (3-1) defeated 3A Central Region Coolidge 55-28 (Aug. 18), 4A Kino Region Tucson Sahuaro 19-6 (Aug. 25), and 3A Central Region Queen Creek Crimson 53-20 (Sept. 1), and fell 7-49 to 4A Kino Region Tucson Mica Mountain (Sept. 8).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Several passes were made by a sweeper on the newly installed Lawson Stadium artificial playing surface.

Thatcher (2-2) fell 14-35 to 3A Metro West Region Surprise Paradise Honors (Aug. 18), defeated Crimson 40-0 (Aug. 25), fell 14-15 to 3A Metro Region Chandler Valley Christian (Sept. 1), and slipped past Round Valley 22-20 (Sept. 8).

This week, American Leadership – Ironwood (2-2) visits 3A Central Region Coolidge (2-2), Round Valley (1-2) hosts 4A East Sky Region San Tan Valley Poston Butte (1-2), Benson (2-2) visits 2A San Pedro Region Tombstone (3-0), Pima (3-0) visits 2A Black Region Saint Johns (1-2), Safford hosts 3A South Region Sabino (3-1), Pusch Ridge (3-1) hosts 4A Kino Region Tucson Catalina Foothills (1-2), Fountain Hills (2-2) visits 3A East Region Payson (2-2), and Thatcher (2-2) visits 4A West Valley Region Yuma Catholic (3-0).

Pima – 19, Morenci – 16 OT

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Ambrosia Johnson performs with the Little Cheers during halftime of the Pima-Morenci football game on Sept. 7. The senior captain is part of the Pima Spirit Line.

An extra period was needed to decide the outcome of the contest, having a 13-13 tie at the end of regulation play. Pima outscored Morenci 13-7 in the second half after Morenci led 6-0 at halftime.

A mid-field meeting of captains and a coin toss, as at the start of the 48 minutes, was used to see who kicked and who received.

Morenci went on offense first, gained no yards in three plays from the 10, and senior Anthony Ballesteros kicked a field goal as the Wildcats went ahead 16-13.

Pima gained a yard on its initial play, and junior quarterback Rhett Hughes threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to senior Jaxon John, ending the game 19-16.

The teams both failed to score on their initial three possessions of the game, with the visitors being 20 percent (31-158) effective on offense and the host at 41 percent (89-219). The Wildcats punted twice and turned the ball over on downs while the Roughriders fumbled twice and turned the ball over on downs.

Morenci gained 16 of 71 needed yards in five plays before punting on 4th-and-9, gained two of 53 yards in three plays before punting on 4th-and-8, and yielded the ball on 4th-and-11 after gaining 13 of 34 yards in six plays.

Pima fumbled on 1st-and-10 after gaining 28 of 72 yards in five plays, turned the ball over on 4th-and-11 after netting 13 of 72 yards in five plays, and fumbled after picking up 48 of 74 yards in six plays.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Rhett Hughes (8) hands off the ball to a teammate against Morenci.

Morenci used Pima’s second fumble to score the initial six points of the game. Senior Donovan Vozza recovered the ball after quarterback Rhett Hughes lost the handle and advanced it 49 yards. Senior Joseph Seballos connected with junior Christopher Lopez for a 25-yard touchdown on 1st-and-10. The conversion run was stopped, but Morenci led 6-0 with 6:11 left in the half.

Pima turned the ball over on its next two first-half possessions, on downs, and on an interception while Morenci also turned the ball over on downs and ran out of time. The Roughriders gained 40 of 74 yards after six plays before throwing an incomplete pass on 4th-and-5, and 14 of 73 yards on three plays before being intercepted on 1st-and-10. The Wildcats netted 32 of 65 yards in eight plays before yielding the ball on 4th-and-3 and did not snap the ball before the buzzer sounded for halftime.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Marcus Lucero (11) looks for daylight against Pima.

The score at halftime favored the visiting Wildcats 6-0, with an offensive efficiency of 35 percent (88-248) compared to 39 percent (143-367) for the Roughriders as both had five possessions.

Pima had more than doubled its offensive efficiency in the second half, going 65 percent (163-252) to 34 percent (160-477) for Morenci as both teams had six possessions.

The Roughriders punted after three plays on 4th-and-10, Hughes connected with senior Tuddy Smart for a 43-yard touchdown on 1st-and-10 and John added the conversion kick, Hughes connected with senior Ryker Shupe for a 10-yard touchdown, and gained 14 of 41 yards after five plays before being intercepted on 1st-and-15, netted 40 of 55 yards on five plays before having a field goal attempt blocked on 4th-and-10, and were intercepted on 1st-and-10.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Tristen Sanchez (5) pressures Pima quarterback Rhett Hughes (8), nearly deflecting a pass attempt.

Morenci lost one of 64 yards in three plays before punting on 4th-and-11, lost one of 80 yards in two plays before being intercepted on 2nd-and-9, gained 30 of 70 yards in nine plays before throwing an incomplete pass on 4th-and-22, covered 98 yards in 12 plays before Casillas capped the drive with a 2-yard run and Ballesteros added the conversion kick, netted 32 of 69 yards in 10 plays before being intercepted on 4th-and-18, and gained two of 94 yards as time ran out.

For the game, Morenci gained 258 yards, 153 on 50 carries, and 105 on five receptions compared to 267 yards, 62 on 16 carries, and 205 on 11 receptions by Pima.

Individually, junior Marcus Lucero averaged 6.0 (1-6) yards per carry, Casillas 4.1 (34-138) yards, senior Emilio Roybal 2.0 (8-16) yards, Vozza 1.0 (3-3) yards, and Seballos 4-(minus 10). Seballos completed 5-10 passes for 105 yards with two interceptions. Lopez averaged 25 (1-25) yards per catch, Weiss 20.0 (1-20) yards, Sanchez 15 (1-15) yards, and Roybal 22.5 (2-45) yards.

Defensively, 52 total tackles (46 solo, 6 assisted) along with three interceptions and a fumble recovery were posted. Sophomore Derick Lytle had nine tackles (7 solo, 2 assisted), senior Austyn Nelson seven (6 solo, 1 assisted), junior Xavier Fernandez six (5 solo, 1 assisted) and two interceptions, Seballos five solo tackles and an interception, Sanchez five solo tackles, Lucero four solo tackles and a fumble recovery, and Vozza a fumble recovery.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The Roughriders ran through a banner prior to the start of the second half with Morenci. Pima prevailed 19-16 in overtime on Edd Hubbard Field and takes its 3-0 record to 1-2 Saint Johns this week.

For the Pima, junior Jeremiah Martinez averaged 4.6 (8-37) yards per carry, Smart 3.8 (5-19) yards, senior Hayden Blair 1-3, senior Jaxon John 1-2, and Shupe 1-1. Hughes completed 11-25 passes for 205 yards with three interceptions. Senior Hayden Shinkle averaged 27. 0 (1-27) yards per catch, Smart 22.0 (3-66) yards, John 18.8 (4-75) yards, senior Sam Ray 12.5 (2-25) yards, and Martinez 1-12.

Defensively, 74 total tackles (29 solo, 45 assisted), two interceptions, and a quarterback sack were recorded. Smart had 16 tackles (9 solo, 7 assisted), junior Brook Haws 12 (4 solo, 8 assisted), Ray seven (1 solo, 6 assisted), senior Pepper Hughes six (3 solo, 3 assisted), Shinkler six (1 solo, 5 assisted), junior Preston Russell six (1 solo, 5 assisted), John four (2 solo, 2 assisted), Martinez four(1 solo, 3 assisted), and senior Dane DeRusha four (1 solo, 3 assisted). Smart and Ray each had an interception and Haws recorded a sack.