Eagles dominate Falcons in playoff opener

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Bretton Dodge (20) guides Quinton Turley (34) down the field as Turley takes a punt back 59 yards for the TD. Thatcher opened its 2018 post-season run with a 56-0 shellacking of Phoenix North Pointe Prep on Friday.

Video By Jon Johnson/Gila Herald

One down, three to go is their mantra

By Jon Johnson


THATCHER – The Thatcher Eagles’ quest to three-peat as 2A State Champions got off to an excellent start Friday night as the No. 1 Eagles (4-0 region, 8-0 conference, 11-0 overall) scored on every offensive series and thoroughly dominated the No. 16 Phoenix North Pointe Prep Falcons (4-1 region, 8-3 conference, 8-3 overall) 56-0.

“We’re taking them one week at a time,” Thatcher head coach Ramon Morales said. “We wanted to come out and play Thatcher football (and) do what we do. We put a couple things in on defense but, you know, I felt like we could stop them with our regular defense.”

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Quarterback Jack Kortsen (7) gives a stiff arm on his way to a 10-yard score.

The Eagles’ defense simply enveloped the Falcons’ bunch formation and North Pointe didn’t get a first down until 8:25 in the second quarter much less move the ball across midfield.

Indeed, it appeared Thatcher lived the entire game in its opponent’s territory, with one of its worse starting field positions on the night being from its own 45. When that is going on it’s fairly easy to say one team was being dominant.

“Clearly Thatcher proved why they are the back-to-back state champions,” North Pointe Prep head coach Daniel Norris said. “They did a terrific job all night. They executed up front and they really just pushed us off the ball.”

If one had to find some flaw in Thatcher’s game it would have to be the penalties on kickoff and punt returns. Thatcher is very good at making the most of punt and kickoff returns and often ends up with a score or excellent field position. But Friday night, two touchdowns were negated by penalties on returns. The penalties ultimately didn’t hurt the Eagles as they scored on every single possession, but it was an area of concern from the team.

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: The Thatcher defensive line stops North Pointe Prep’s ‘rugby’ bunch offense.

One area that doesn’t get enough mention in the sports reports (and I’m guilty as well) is how well the offensive lineman get on their blocks and push the defense backward. The Eagles have a stable of quality running backs and I’m not trying to take anything away from their excellence, but it appears sometimes that one could just drop in any of their backs and he could have a top night as the line seemingly gives them five yards before they come into contact with the defense.

“We got the lineman for sure,” Bretton Dodge said. “I’m pretty sure (they are) the best linemen in the state.” (sic)

The running back crew (including quarterback Jack Kortsen who had more than 100 yards rushing on the night) then do their best at picking and popping in and out of the defense as blockers continue to do their thing down the field. The offensive line is something to behold.

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Some of Thatcher’s stable of running backs include, from left, Bretton Dodge (20), Brock Jones (32), Quinton Turley (34), and Riley Morris (28).

That being said, the defensive line was equally impressive against North Pointe Prep as they stood up the bunch formation all night long. The Falcons mustered only four first downs the entire game, with one of them being from a face mask penalty.

“We wanted to make a statement and show them that we could play some football,” Morales said. “That’s what we did.”

Thatcher appeared to start its scoring on a punt return after forcing North Pointe Prep to a 3-and-out on its first possession. Bretton Dodge snatched the punt at the 45 and raced it back to the house for the score, but the TD was nullified by a holding penalty.

A few plays later in the drive, Brock Jones broke the ice with a 14-yard TD run and Thatcher was up 7-0.

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Quinton Turley (34) runs for a TD.

Another 3-and-out was followed by another big punt return – this time by Quinton Turley – but it was also nullified by a holding call and the Eagles had to settle to start their drive from midfield. After a couple of nice runs by Kortsen, Turley capped off the drive with a 10-yard score on the pitch.

A poor fielding choice on the ensuing kickoff saw the Eagles recover the ball as it died at the 10-yard line when Falcon Joe Soriano-Garfias watched hoping it would go out of bounds. Kortsen ran it in on the next play and Thatcher was up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter saw a third straight 3-and-out by North Pointe Prep, and the Eagles capitalized on a big 28-yard punt return by Dodge as he scored two plays later on a 5-yard TD plunge.

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: The Eagles’ captains stride onto the field. They are, from left, Quinton Turley (34), Riley Morris (28), Quinten Mack (70), and Jack Kortsen (7).

The Falcons then made their best drive of the night but then went backward on an intentional grounding call as Thatcher’s Cole Motes was tackling Falcon quarterback Juan Medina for the sack, and consecutive tackles for loss by the Eagles.

The Falcons punted on 4th-and-27, but that just gave Turley the opportunity to take the punt back 59 yards to the house to put Thatcher up 35-0 going into halftime.

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Cole Motes (88) sacks Juan Medina (8). Medina was flagged for intentional grounding on the play.

A 94-yard kickoff return TD by Trevan Clark was called back on to the 45-yard line on a penalty call, so Kortsen ran it in on the next play to put Thatcher up 42-0 and start the running clock.

A turnover on downs after four plays gave Thatcher good field position again, and Javan Montoya made the Falcons pay with a 39-yard reverse to put Thatcher up 49-0. 

The Eagles scored one more time at the start of the fourth quarter when Kortsen dropped back and found Trace Goodman down the middle of the field. Goodman caught the ball over his shoulder and took it the rest of the way for a 58-yard TD as Thatcher breezed to a 56-0 victory.

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Thatcher quarterback Jack Kortsen prepares to take the snap. Kortsen ran for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns and threw for a TD as well.

“Our guys need to get tougher,” Norris said. “We’re only going to get better from here. I’m extremely proud of the progress that we’ve made to go from an 0-10 season two years ago to being 8-2; to being region champions. It’s just a really big step forward for this program. (It’s the) first time in school history we’ve been in the playoffs; first time in school history that we’ve had a winning season. I’m extremely proud of these young men. They all have extremely bright futures. And we’re going to get better from here.”   

The Eagles will next face the No. 9 Benson Bobcats (4-0 region, 7-4 conference 7-4 overall) on Friday, Nov. 9 starting at 7 p.m. at John T. Mickelson Field at Eastern Arizona College. The Bobcats held on to beat Alchesay 46-42 in the first round.

Thatcher previously pummeled Benson 48-6 during a game at EAC on Sep. 14.

“We’re just taking it one week at a time,” Morales said. “Whoever it is that we gotta play; we just come up with a game plan and we just do it. You play who you gotta play. Like I said, we’re not afraid of anybody. Line it up and we play. That’s our mentality one week at a time.” (sic)

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Thatcher will face Benson in round two Friday at EAC.

In other local prep playoff action:

The No. 10 Safford Bulldogs (4-1 region, 7-3 conference, 7-4 overall) took the fight to the No. 7 Buckeye Odyssey Institute Minotaurs and left Maricopa County with a 34-0 victory.

The Bulldogs will next travel to play No. 2 Yuma Catholic (3-1 region, 8-1 conference, 9-2 overall) on Friday, Nov. 9, starting at 7 p.m.

The Shamrocks beat the No. 15 Show Low Cougars 49-20 in the opening round of the playoffs. Their only losses this year have been to Brawley, Calif. and a 7-point loss to Valley Christian.

The No. 4 Morenci Wildcats (2-2 region, 8-2 conference, 9-2 overall) blew out No. 13 Parker (3-1 region, 5-2 conference, 6-4 overall) 57-6. Morenci will next host No. 5 Phoenix Christian Cougars (6-0 region, 7-1 conference, 9-2 overall) on Friday, Nov. 9, starting at 7 p.m.

The Wildcats and Cougars both lost to Round Valley this year, with the Elks beating the Wildcats, 30-2 on Oct. 12 and the Cougars 28-21 on Sept. 21.

If both Thatcher and Morenci win the second-round games, they will face each other in the semifinals in Scottsdale at Chaparral High School on Friday, Nov. 17, starting at 6 p.m.

The No. 14 Pima Roughriders (0-5 region, 3-7 conference, 3-7 overall) lost to the No. 3 Round Valley Elks (4-1 region, 7-1 conference, 9-2 overall) 45-0 to end their season. 

This article was corrected to list Trace Goodman with the TD reception. An earlier version listed a different player.