Fourth-ranked Wildcats take on No. 2 Coyotes for the state title Saturday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci defenders Patrick Chavez (13), Richard Trott III (54), and Brendon Enriquez (10) zero in on Parker sophomore quarterback Zachary Bennett (3) as he approaches midfield. The Wildcats stopped Parker on its initial four offensive possessions. Morenci scored twice on three-play first-quarter drives and returned a recovered fumble to lead 19-0 with 1:44 elapsed in the second quarter. The Wildcats defeated top-ranked Parker 39-14 in a semifinal game at Phoenix Desert Vista on Nov. 20. Fourth-ranked Morenci takes on No. 2 Arizona Lutheran for the state title on the Gilbert Campo Verde campus Saturday, Nov. 27 at 2 p.m.

Morenci ousts No.1 Parker in semifinal round

By Raymundo Frasquillo

GILBERT – The No. 4 Morenci Wildcats take on the No. 2 Arizona Lutheran Coyotes for the 2A state title Saturday, Nov. 27 at 2 p.m. The site is the Gilbert Campo Verde campus, 3870 South Quartz St. in Gilbert.

Arizona Lutheran (12-1 overall) eliminated No. 3 Benson (9-3) 20-7 in the Nov. 20 semifinals, No. 7 Pima (7-4) 33-27 in the Nov. 12 quarterfinals, and No. 15 Glendale Trivium Prep (5-5) 61-20 in the Nov. 5 first round.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci junior lineman Jalen Kitcheyan stands up Parker senior Abraham Silva, allowing a teammate to slip by.

The Coyotes averaged a 43-11 (432-108) score per game or a 32-point margin during a 10-game regular season. The wins were 33-18 over Scottsdale Christian (Aug. 26), 56-0 over Kingman Academy (Sept. 3), 52-0 over Phoenix Christian (Sept. 10), 15-14 over Eloy Santa Cruz (Sept. 17), 35-6 over Maricopa Sequoia Pathway (Sept. 24), 38-14 over Phoenix Veritas Prep (Oct. 8), 59-16 over Phoenix NFL Yet (Oct. 15), 55-0 over Chandler Prep (Oct. 22), and 71-0 over Laveen Heritage Prep (Oct. 29). The loss was 40-18 to Parker (Oct. 1).

Morenci (11-2) ousted top-ranked Parker (11-1) 39-14 in the semifinals, No. 12 Gilbert Christian (9-3) 35-23 in the quarterfinals, and received a forfeit win from No. 13 Whiteriver Alchesay (5-3) in the first round.

The Wildcats averaged a 38-15 (377-149) score per game or a 23-point margin through 10 regular-season games. The wins were 45-12 over Maricopa Sequoia Pathway (Aug. 27), 55-0 over Globe (Sept. 10), 72-0 over Phoenix Madison Highland (Sept. 17), 27-7 over Saint Johns (Sept. 24), 46-7 over Bisbee (Oct. 1), 58-6 over Tombstone (Oct. 8), 27-10 over Willcox (Oct. 22), and 33-19 over Pima (Oct. 29). The losses were 46-7 to Eagar Round Valley (Sept. 3) and 42-7 to Benson (Oct. 15).

Arizona Lutheran is 8-8 and Morenci 6-8 in the post-season during the previous decade (2011-20).

Morenci is 3-0 versus the Coyotes in the post-season, with wins of 35-21 over No. 6 as No. 11 in the 2011 first round, 54-21 over No. 7 as No. 2 in the 2012 quarterfinals, and 27-17 over No. 9 as No. 8 in the 2017 first round.

The Coyotes were also eliminated 34-27 by No. 1 Benson as No. 2 in 2020, 14-7 by No. 2 Tempe Prep as No. 6 in 2014, and 22-28 by No. 4 Round Valley as No. 1 in 2013 during the semifinals; 49-7 by Round Valley as No. 6 in 2018 during the quarterfinals; and 35-7 by No. 6 Saint Johns as No. 11 in 2019 during the first round.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Jericho Sanchez stops Parker sophomore Thaddeus Nopah and wrestles him down as junior Gavin Baca and senior Tony Roybal move in to assist.

A dozen state titles have been won by the top four ranked teams during the 14 seasons of a Top 16 format, with No. 1 winning five (2010, 2012, 2014, 2918, 2019), No. 3 four (2013, 2016, 2017, 2020), No. 2 three (2008, 2011, 2015) and No. 4 none. The other two titles were won by No. 7 (2009) and No. 10 (2007). 

It has been 45 years since the Wildcats reigned over the state as champions, doing so during the nation’s Bicentennial year. Three previous tries in the ensuing years each came up short. The title game losses were 25-7 to Phoenix Christian (1984), 20-8 to Saint Johns (1992), and 21-7 to Phoenix Northwest Christian (2012).

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

Morenci stands 21-25 (.457) in the state playoffs, 12-11 (.522) in the first round, 5-10 (.333) in the quarterfinals, and 4-1 (.800) in the semifinals since 1976. The Red and Black will finish 24 times over .500, five at .500, and 16 times below .500 in the same span.

The 2021 Wildcats will pen their final chapter on the season during the state championship game.

Morenci – 39, Parker – 14

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci team manager Joseph Chavarria fills a water bottle for players to hydrate themselves throughout the game.

The often asked student question, why do we study history, is answered with to learn from and not repeat the mistakes of the past. There are those that will claim they witnessed history in the making and were there, the night David slew Goliath on Nov. 20. The game was web streamed live on the NFHS Network.

Fourth-ranked Morenci used more than a slingshot and lone pebble to topple unbeaten No. 1 Parker 39-14 in Phoenix Desert Vista’s Thunder Stadium. It was with a multitude of weapons, each having a different name.

The Colorado River school had not faced the Wildcats since the first round of the 2018 playoffs, a 57-6 loss in Morenci’s Lawson Stadium as No. 13 at No. 4, and afterward, a long, all-night cross-state ride home loomed ahead.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Alice Aguilar claps for a defensive effort turned in against Parker. The Morenci sophomore was one of nine spirit line members cheering on the Wildcats.

Parker was the only No. 1 ranked 2A team all season long, perched atop 43 other teams since the initial rankings were unveiled midway through the 10-week regular season.

Accepting the outcome, head coach Jeston Lotts led the blue and gold-clad boys by example, wearing a smile as he congratulated the visiting Wildcats and coaches at midfield after the clock wound down.

Parker had won the coin toss and elected to receive the kickoff. It was clearly stopped on its initial four possessions, resulting in two turnovers on downs, a punt, and a fumble. It went three and out on the first possession, and picked up a first down on the successive three. A total of 43 yards were gained on 17 plays plus a 5-yard penalty. A fumble on the fourth was recovered by Morenci for a score.

The top-ranked Broncs had a 19-0 deficit before crossing the goal line with 17:28 elapsed in the semifinal game. Their fifth possession covered 60 yards in seven plays, but a sixth resulted in a punt after losing seven yards in three plays. Seniors Cameron Poole and Leo Scott Jr. connected for a 49-yard scoring pass. Sophomore Thaddeus Nopah added the conversion run. The Broncs were on the scoreboard with 6:32 left in the second quarter, but never tied or led during the entire game.

Morenci struck twice on three-play possessions, covering 15 and 58 yards. Diminutive sophomore workhorse Michael Casillas crossed in from five yards out on his third straight carry on 1st-and-goal and fleet-footed junior Derek Saenz sprinted 49 yards on 3rd-and-1 to pay dirt untouched. The conversion run attempts were both unsuccessful.

The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs the next time having it, but not before gaining 14 yards in seven plays. A third score was added on a recovered fumble on first down. Sophomore Donovan Vozza scooped up a midfield fumble and made a bee-line to the end zone, 32 yards away.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci used a multitude of weapons to defeat top-ranked Parker. Quarterback Daylen Johnson (1) steps to handoff to Kaden Summer (18) with Patrick Chavez (13) leading interference for him.

Two additional first-half possessions did not result in scores. There was a punt after four yards gained in five plays on 4th-and-7 and running out of time with 11 yards gained in four plays.

The underdog No. 4 Wildcats led 19-8 at halftime and returned to outscore the No. 1 Broncs 20-6 in the second half, with both having four more offensive possessions.

Morenci scored thrice, covering 51 yards in eight plays plus a 15-yard penalty, 21 yards in seven plays, 40 yards in five plays; and fumbled after gaining 17 yards in five plays.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Sophomore Michael Casillas eludes a tackle by Parker senior Tyson Ross en route to his second touchdown and a 26-8 Morenci advantage.

Casillas ran in from three yards out on 4th-and-goal and senior Tony Roybal caught junior Daylen Johnson passes for 5- and 12-yard TDs, on 4th-and-goal and on 2nd-and-5, respectively. Sophomore Austyn Nelson made two of three conversion kicks. Morenci led 39-8 with 9:46 remaining to play.

Parker fumbled after two no-gain plays, turned the ball over on downs after four no-gain plays plus a 10-yard penalty, drove 63 yards in 16 plays for a score with 3:55 remaining, and recovered a fumble but ran out of time after gaining nine yards on one play.

Senior Anthony Taylor capped the Broncs’ scoring drive with a 5-yard run and the Poole conversion attempt was stopped.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Assistant coach Benji Morales applauds the foiled initial four Parker offensive possessions, resulting in turnovers on downs twice, a punt, and a fumble. Morenci led 19-0 before the top-ranked Broncs crossed the goal line.

On the evening, Morenci gained 266 offensive yards, 228 on 36 carries plus 38 on 4-7 passes compared to 179 yards for Parker.

Saenz averaged 13.8 (6-83) yards per carry, Casillas 6.2 (14-87) yards, Johnson 5.8 (4-23) yards, and junior Patrick Chavez 2.9 (12-35) yards. Junior Gavin Baca averaged 12.0 (1-12) yards per catch and Roybal 8.7 (3-26) yards. Johnson completed 4-6 passes for 38 yards and Roybal 0-1.

Defensively, 17 different Wildcats recorded at least one tackle. Senior Brendon Enriquez totaled 13 tackles (7 solo, 6 assisted), sophomore Tristan Sanchez 10 (7 solo, 3 assisted), seniors Shawn Hudman (6 solo, 3 assisted), and Kaden Summer (3 solo, 6 assisted) nine apiece, Saenz eight (6 solo, 2 assisted), sophomore Andrew Chavez seven (4 solo, 3 assisted), senior Jericho Sanchez, Baca, and Patrick Chavez six (3 solo, 3 assisted) apiece, Casillas (4 solo, 1 assisted) and senior Richard Trott III (3 solo, 2 assisted) five each, and Vozza four solo.

Tristen Sanchez posted three sacks and both Andrew and Patrick Chavez shared one, Roybal deflected a pass, and both Tristen Sanchez and Vozza recovered a fumble.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Parker head coach Jeston Lotts congratulates Morenci senior Shawn Hudman (65) as senior Juancarlos Figueroa (76) awaits to do the same.
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