Duncan opens the 2023 campaign on Packer Field on Friday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The Wildkats fine-tuned offensive plays in preparation for the season home opener with Lordsburg on Aug. 18.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

DUNCAN – The Dan Coats-coached Duncan Wildkats open the 2023 football season on Packer Field Friday, Aug. 18. The Lordsburg Mavericks are the opponent. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.

The pairing is the ninth for the two programs in 29 (1996-2023) seasons. The schools met for the season opener during the final seven seasons (1996-2002) before Duncan switched to the 8-man format. Duncan opened in the “Land of Enchantment” against Lordsburg last season, succumbing 14-38. The win gave Lordsburg a 7-1 record and an average score per game of 16-9 (128-71) or a 7-point margin over Duncan.

Lordsburg Mavericks

The 2022 season was the Mavericks’ initial one in the 8-man format. The Mavericks finished 10-1 (.909) overall, 3-0 (1.000) in the district, and averaged a score of 52-17 (570-183) per game or a 35-point margin. Fort Sumner/House handed Lordsburg its lone of the season, 34-44, during the state championship game.

Dale Hooper (27-23 overall, 11-4 district, 2-5 state) is in his seventh season (2018-23) as the Mavericks’ head coach, the second in the 8-man format.

The Maverficks’ remaining schedule is with Albuquerque Menaul (Aug. 25), at Tatum (Sept. 1), with Albuquerque Legacy (Sept. 7), at Melrose (Sept. 15), Magdalena Alamo Navajo (Sept. 22), and Magdalena (Oct. 12), and with Las Cruces Mesilla Valley Christian (Oct. 20).

Lordsburg’s district opponents are Magdalena Alamo Navajo, Magdalena, and Las Cruces Mesilla Valley Christian.

Duncan Wildkats

The Wildkats 85-82 (.509) overall, 14-13 (.519) section, 42-30 (.583) region, 1-10 (.091) in state playoffs, 44-39 (.530) on Packer Field, and 16-4 (.800) for homecoming during 20 seasons (2003-22) of playing in the 8-man format.

Last season, the Wildkats went 5-3 (.625) overall, 4-2 (.5667) for 3rd of seven in the region, and averaged a 37-28 (298-226) score per game or a 9-point margin.

Eric Bejarano (22-17 overall, 17-9 region, 0-2 state) finished his fifth (2018-22) season as head coach, with his teams averaging a 32-26 (1,252-1,019) score per game or a 6-point margin. His three predecessors went a combined 63-65 (.492) overall, 14-13 (.519) section, 25-21 (.543) region, 1-8 (.111) in state playoffs, and averaged a 38-36 (4,804-4,653) score per game or a 2-point margin during the previous 15 seasons combined.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Isaac Harris runs upfield during a recent practice session. The Duncan junior is the lone all-region returnee for the Wilkats, named to the first team as a kick returner and to the second team as a running back.

The Wildkats went 36-43 (.465) overall, 14-13 (.519) section, 11-6 (.647) region, and averaged a 31-35 (2,450-2,791) score per game or a 4-point deficit during nine (2009-17) seasons under Eldon Merrell; 8-8 (.500) overall, 7-4 (.636) region, 0-1 state playoffs, and averaged a 25-26 (398-420) score per game or a 1-point deficit during two (2007-08) seasons under Joseph Sesate; and 19-14 (.576) overall, 7-11 (.389) region, 1-1 (.500) state playoffs, and averaged a 30-19 (1,002-643) score per game or an 11-point margin during four (2003-06) seasons under Feliciano “Chano” Talavera.

Duncan hosts Fort Thomas (Aug. 25), visits San Manuel (Sept. 1) and Saint David (Sept. 8), hosts Sells Baboquivari (Sept. 22), and visits Kearny Ray (Sept. 29) and Elfrida Valley Union (Oct. 6).

The Wildkats have a trio of three-year lettermen in seniors Adriano Burrola, Cutter Scarsella, and Sean Webb. Other returning lettermen include junior Nathan Dunham and Isaac Harris; and sophomores Ky Coats, Joshua Free, and Kason Ludvingson.

Harris is the lone returnee earning all-region honors in 2022, first-team kick returner, and second-team running back.

First-year players are junior Trey Holguin; sophomores Guy Reidhead, Evelyn Roberts, Pablo Ruiz, and Isaiah Sumner; and freshmen Conner Free, Billy Johnson, Joseph Nandino, and Lloyd Weinreich.

Joining Coats as assistant coaches are Joey Bejarano and Kix Conger.

Duncan is competing in the seven-team South Region with Elfrida Valley Union, Fort Thomas, Kearny Ray, Sells Baboquivari, Saint David, and San Manuel.

Eighteen other 1A teams divided evenly into three regions are also competing for the 2023 state title.

The North Region lists Colorado City El Capitan, Fredonia, Heber Mogollon, Joseph City, Mayer, and Williams.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Players compete for a fumble recovery during a drill.

East Region members include Chandler Lincoln Prep, Dishchii’bikoh, Scottsdale Cicero Prep, Superior, Tempe Prep, and Winkelman Hayden.

The West Region has Anthem Prep, Bagdad, Bullhead City Mohave Accelerated, Glendale Desert Heights Prep, North Phoenix Prep, and Salome.

In other local prep football

Friday will see most of the Gila Valley’s teams open their season on the road.

Safford visits the Payson Longhorns and Thatcher has to go all the way out to Surprise to battle the Paradise Honors Panthers. Morenci is also on the road for its first game in 3A and will face the American Leadership Academy – Ironwood Warriors in the San Tan Valley. (The Morenci JV team got it done 12-0 the previous night)

Fort Thomas opens its season by hosting the Baboquivari Warriors and the Pima Roughriders get their bye the opening week and will open the season the following week at Safford. All games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. MST.