Morenci, Benson, Safford, Thatcher to regroup

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Emilio Roybal (1) netted 16 yards on four carries against Blue Ridge. The Morenci senior was one of six backs contributing to the 210 rushing yards. Blue Ridge left Greenlee County with a 24-21 win on Sept. 15. The Wildcats will host Safford on Sept. 29.

Wildcats short three points in field dedication game

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – We study history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The current Wildcats will say they didn’t know, but all they had to do was spend some time in their own gymnasium. There, in one of the display cases, was a score of the previous ceremony held in their football facility. The result was a 3-24 loss on Oct. 1, 1982, the day Lawson Stadium was dedicated.

Clifton Class of 1983 members on that team can boast of beating Morenci on that occasion, the first time the schools met on the gridiron in that facility. They can also claim having handed Morenci a 6-13 loss the last time the schools met “On the Hill” during the previous year, on Sept. 18, 1981.

Those scores are etched in the memory of team members, all in attendance, as well as alumni of the 2015 shuttered school.

And now, Blue Ridge senior football players can claim to have spoiled Morenci’s artificial playing surface pre-game ribbon cutting ceremony, and scored 24 points on the 2023 Wildcats, for the rest of their lives with a graduate of their school and former standout player as their head coach, Jeremy Hathcoth (Class of 1991).

Morenci Wildcats (3-2, 0-0)

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A pre-game ribbon cutting ceremony was held during the pre-game of the home opener. Morenci Schools superintendent Jennifer Morales accepts the key for the field improvements from Mike Wickham, left, of General Acrylics. On the right are school board member Ron Campbell and former superintendent Dr. David Woodall.

The 3-2 Wildcats have averaged a 20-10 (101-49) score per game or 10-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 losses to Pima (16-19 in OT, Sept. 7) and to Blue Ridge (21-24, Sept. 15).

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: Gabriela Provencio marches to the beat with the Pride Band. The Morenci junior is part of the percussion section.

2023 Morenci opponents

This week, Morenci (3-2 overall, 0-0 region), Benson (3-2, 1-0 2A San Pedro Region), Sabino (4-1, 1-0 3A South Region), and Thatcher (2-3, 0-0 region) do not have a scheduled contest.

American Leadership – Ironwood (2-2) visits 3A Metro East Region Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin (3-2), Round Valley (1-3) hosts 3A East Show Low (1-3), Pima (3-0) visits 2A Black Region Miami (1-3), Blue Ridge (4-1) visits 3A South Region Safford (2-3), Pusch Ridge (4-0) visits 3A Central Region San Tan Valley San Tan Foothills (1-4), and Fountain Hills (2-3) visits 3A Metro East Region Gilbert Christian (3-2).

Through five weeks of play, Morenci’s opponents, minus pairings with the Wildcats, are a combined 26-15 (.634). Only Safford and Sabino have met for region play, with the Tucson school posting a win.

Queen Creek American Leadership – Ironwood (3-2) 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), defeated 4A Southwest Region Phoenix Sierra Linda 27-20 in overtime (Sept. 8), and edged 3A Central Coolidge 7-6 (Sept. 15).

Eagar Round Valley (1-3) 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) and 18-20 to 4A East Sky Region San Tan Valley Poston Butte 18-20 (Sept. 15).

Benson (2-3) 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), defeated 2A Verde Region Phoenix Shadow Mountain 38-34 (Sept. 8), and fell 26-33 to 2A San Pedro Region Tombstone (Sept. 15).

Pima (4-0) defeated 3A South Region Safford 34-25 (Aug. 25), 2A Verde Region Scottsdale Christian 23-20 (Sept. 1), Morenci 19-16 in overtime (Sept. 7), and 2A Black Region Saint Johns 41-0 (Sept. 16).

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), fell 27-28 to 4A Grand Canyon Region Cottonwood Mingus (Sept. 8), and defeated Morenci 24-21 (Sept. 15).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Tristen Sanchez (5) gained 37 yards on a pass reception and 30 yards on three carries against Blue Ridge.

Safford (2-3, 0-1 3A South Region) 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), defeated 4A Gila Region Tucson Rincon/University 49-17 (Sept. 8), and fell 21-50 to 3A South Region Sabino (Sept. 15).

Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian (4-0) defeated 3A East Region Show Low 24-21 (Aug. 25), 3A Metro East Region Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin 34-7 (Sept. 1), 3A Metro West Region Yuma 38-14 (Sept. 8), and 4A Kino Region Tucson Catalina Foothills 28-13 (Sept. 15).

Fountain Hills (2-3) 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), 24-58 to 4A East Sky Region Tempe Marcos de Niza 24-58 (Sept. 8), and 3-14 to 3A East Region Payson (Sept. 15).

Tucson Sabino (4-1) 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), fell 7-49 to 4A Kino Region Tucson Mica Mountain (Sept. 8), and defeated 3A South Region Safford 50-21 (Sept. 15).

Thatcher (2-3) 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), defeated 3A East Region Round Valley 22-20 (Sept. 8), and fell 20-42 to 4A West Valley Region Yuma Catholic (Sept. 15).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The seven-member flag line performed with the Pride Band during the 2023 home opener in Lawson Stadium.

Blue Ridge – 24, Morenci – 21

A game-tying field goal attempt was blocked in the closing seconds of the new playing surface dedication game.

“Not many teams get a chance to win a game,” first-year Morenci head coach Rishard Davis said. “We failed to control our own destiny.”

Missed assignments throughout the game added up. It came down to a 24-yard field goal attempt on 4th-and-4 in the final 21 seconds. Blue Ridge senior Aydin Olguin blocked it and the visitors took possession on downs.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Marcus Lucero (11) prepares to stop Blue Ridge senior ball carrier Matt Simington (23). The Morenci junior was one of the Wildcats totaling four solo tackles.

The visiting Yellow Jackets enjoyed a 24-14 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.  The score was tied 7-7 following the opening quarter and 14-14 at halftime.

Blue Ridge took the lead for good on its initial second-half possession. A 15-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Luke Berlin to senior David Simmons capped a 5-play, 48-yard drive. Senior Josiah Spillman added the conversion kick. The scoreboard read Guest 21, Home 14 with 4:12 elapsed in the second half.

The teams exchanged punts, Morenci on 4th-and-11 after losing one of 64 yards in three plays and Blue Ridge on 4th-and-9 after gaining one of 63 yards in three plays, before the visitors added some more points.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Offensive lineman Javier Hernandez (72) hydrates during a break.

Blue Ridge gained 12 of 17 yards in three plays before splitting the uprights on 4th-and-goal from the five. #19 made the field goal. The Yellow Jackets led 24-14 with 3:50 left in the third quarter.

The teams again exchanged punts, Morenci on 4th-and-7 after gaining three of 60 yards in three plays and Blue Ridge on 4th-and-20 after losing 10 of 60 yards in three plays and two penalties.

Morenci sophomore Julien Aragon capped a 35-yard, three-play drive plus penalty with a 7-yard run on  1st-and-goal. Senior Anthony Ballesteros added the conversion kick for a 3-point, 21-24, deficit with 10:01 remaining.

Blue Ridge gained 36 of 61 yards on 12 plays using 5:39 before turning the ball over on downs, posting a no gain on 4th-and-11.

Morenci covered 63 of 75 yards in 4:00 before attempting a game-tying field goal.

Having gained 14 of 75 yards while using 4:04 on the game’s initial possession, the visitors punted on 4th-and-18. Morenci covered 51 yards in six plays 2:44 later. Senior Michael Casillas sprinted 30 yards to light up the home side of the scoreboard. Senior Anthony Ballesteros added the conversion kick to give Morenci a 7-0 advantage with 6:48 elapsed in the game.

However, the margin was short-lived as Simmons returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards and Spillman added the conversion kick to tie the score at 7-7 19 seconds later.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci letters are positioned in the end zone, cut to fit, and folded back to set adhesive stripes underneath. It was the final artwork put in place on the Lawson Stadium playing surface by General Acrylics personnel.

Morenci covered 72 yards in 12 plays as Casillas capped the drive on 3rd-and-goal with a 1-yard run. Ballesteros added the conversion kick, putting the Wildcats ahead 14-7 with 2:18 elapsed in the second quarter.

Blue Ridge used 17 plays to cover 73 yards in 5:12. Sophomore Karlo Harris capped the drive with a 1-yard run on 2nd-and-goal. Spillman added the conversion kick to knot the score at 14-14 with 4:50 left in the first half.

Morenci gained 51 of 65 yards before attempting a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half. Simmons blocked it and the teams went into the locker room at halftime tied 14-14.

For the game, Morenci gained 290 yards, 210 on 44 carries, and 80 on six receptions.

Individually, senior Tristen Sanchez averaged 10.0 (3-30) yards per carry, Aragon 7.5 (2-15) yards, senior Joseph Seballos 7.2 (6-43) yards, senior Emilio Roybal 4.0 (4-16) yards, Casillas 3.8 (26-100) yards, and senior Donovan Vozza 2.0 (3-6) yards.

Seballos completed 6-12 passes for 80 yards with no interceptions. Sanchez averaged 37.0 (1-37) yards per catch, junior Marcus Lucero 23.0 (1-23) yards, junior Christopher Lopez 8.5 (2-17) yards, Roybal 3.0 (1-3) yards, and senior Bradley Weiss one for no gain.

Defensively, a dozen Wildcats had at least one of 36 solo tackles. Two quarterback sacks were also recorded. Senior Austyn Nelson and Sanchez both had four solo tackles and a sack, and Casillas, junior Xavier Fernandez, Lucero, and sophomore Derick Lytle had four solo tackles apiece.

Defensively for Blue Ridge, 86 total tackles (18 solo, 68 assisted), two blocked field goals, and a fumble recovery were recorded. Harris had 16 tackles (3 solo, 13 assisted), sophomore Trenyn Trickey 15 (3 solo, 12 assisted), junior Hunter Krause 11 (1 solo, 10 assisted), junior Noah Chee 10 (1 solo, 9 assisted) and a fumble recovery, junior Trevor Bires eight (3 solo, 5 assisted), Olguin six assisted and a blocked field goal, Simmons six (1 solo, 5 assisted) and a blocked field goal, and junior Sam James four (3 solo, 1 assisted).