Morenci knocks off Pima

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Pima quarterback Seth Russell looks for an open receiver. Morenci knocked off Pima 33-19 on Friday night.

Both teams to host first-round playoff games

By Jon Johnson

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

PIMA – The math was easy for Pima. Beat Morenci, and win the San Pedro Region. However, Morenci said, “hold my Gatorade” and put a corkscrew into that plan by defeating the Roughriders 33-19.  

The loss dropped Pima from first to third in the region, with Morenci finishing in second. The 2A San Pedro Regional Champion is now Benson (4-1 region, 7-1 conference, 7-2 overall), thanks to a 35-0 drubbing of Willcox.

All four teams will host a first-round playoff game on Friday, with No.3 Benson hosting No. 14 Sequoia Pathway; No. 4 Morenci hosting No. 13 Alchesay; No. 7 Pima hosting No. 10 Scottsdale Prep; and No. 8 Willcox hosting No. 9 Holbrook. Morenci is in the top of the playoff bracket with overall No. 1 Parker, and Pima is in the lower half of the bracket with Benson and overall No. 2 Arizona Lutheran. That means it is possible for Pima and Morenci to meet again this season. But if it were to happen it would be for the state championship. 

Morenci 33 Pima 19

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci running back Michael Casillas stretches for more yardage. Casillas finished the night with two touchdowns with 225 yards rushing on 22 carries.

The Wildcats came onto Edd Hubbard Field pumped and it showed on the very first play from scrimmage as Michael Casillas exploded out of the gate for 15 quick yards. The big plays went mostly all to Morenci on the night, as the visiting team knocked off Pima from the top of the standing and leap-frogged them into the playoffs.  

The Wildcats dominated time of possession in the first half and methodically made their way downfield, ending with a 3-yard TD by Casillas to open the scoring 6-0. Casillas finished with two touchdowns on the night with 225 yards rushing on 22 carries.

Casillas has rushed for 1,547 yards in 10 regular-season games, averaging nearly 10 yards per rush for an average of 154.7 yards per game.    

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Pima QB Seth Russell (16) prepares to hand the ball off to running back Brody Brown (2).

Pima had only one possession in the first quarter, and it ended when a pitch to Brody Brown failed to convert on 4th and short.  

The Wildcats started the second quarter in scoring position after another big Casillas run brought them into Roughriders’ territory. On 3rd and goal from the 3, Daylen Johnson rolled out to his left and kept going to the corner of the end zone to give Morenci a 13-0 lead. Johnson ended up running for two touchdowns on the night and throwing for a huge 75-yard TD, but we’ll get to that. 

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The Pima mascot was in shock.

After a holding call negated a big passing pickup from Seth Russell to Grant Ashby, the Roughriders ended up punting on 4th and 10. However, on the very next play, Johnson faked a handoff to Casillas and raced to the left sideline. Johnson then streaked down the field 75 yards to pay dirt to put Morenci up 20-0. 

Just when you thought Pima was hung up for the half, Russell somehow hit Grant Ashby on a long pass. Ashby then inexplicably dodged a tackler, and brushed off another, and just before the half Grant Ashby dove into the end zone and the refs gave him the play, putting Pima on the board but still trailing 7-20 as the teams went into halftime. 

Pima was moving the ball in the third quarter but turned it over on a bad pitch lost fumble. Morenci failed to capitalize, however, as Pima’s defense held on 4th and short and just stopped Casillas south of the line. 

Pima then used the rest of the third quarter to methodically move the ball down the field and ended up starting the fourth quarter with a 1st and goal from inside the 1. 

Two plays later, Russell did a successful QB sneak and Pima was only down one score, 13-20. 

The pendulum appeared to be swaying back Pima’s way as Johnson wasn’t ready for the snap and had to jump on the loose ball to prevent a turnover. However, Morenci did now face a 3rd and 25 from their own 30. 

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Derek Saenz (2) just escapes from the tackle attempt by Hayden Blair to score a 75-yard TD.

Morenci won the big-play game all night and this moment was one of them. Backed up and facing a Roughriders team bearing down on them, Johnson dropped back to pass, rolled to his right, and uncorked a thing of beauty. The pass sailed through the air and hit Derek Saenz in stride at Pima’s 30, just outside of the outstretched arms of the defense. Saenz took it in the rest of the way to double up Pima 26-13 with 8:09 left in the game. 

If that wasn’t the nail in the coffin, Morenci had one more big play combo to finish it off. With Pima still battling, Kaden Summer stepped in front of a Russell offering and gathered the INT for Morenci. 

On the very next play, Casillas outraced everyone to the end zone and went 54 yards for the capper to put Morenci up 33-13 with 1:06 left to play. 

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci head coach Joseph Garcia, left, and Pima head coach Jim Hughes embrace after the game.

Still, Pima never gave up and on the last play of the game, Leland Thompson took a Russell screen pass 20 yards to the house to make the final score 33-19.

No. 4 Morenci will next host No. 13 Alchesay and No. 7 Pima will host No. 10 Scottsdale Prep on Friday, Nov. 5, starting at 7 p.m. in the first round of the 2A State Playoffs. 

In other local prep football action

Photo By Stan Bonifacio Sports Photography: Josh Mangum races for one of his TDs on the night. Thatcher defeated Safford 55-0.

The Thatcher Eagles (3-1 region, 5-2 conference, 7-3 overall) defeated the Safford Bulldogs (1-3 region, 2-4 conference, 6-4 overall) 55-0. 

No.10 Thatcher’s reward for the win is to go on the road in the first round of the 3A State Playoffs to battle No. 7 Pusch Ridge (3-1 region, 5-2 conference, 8-2 overall) which is the 3A South Region Champion. Pusch Ridge recently defeated Thatcher at home 41-14 on Oct. 22. The playoff game will take place in Tucson at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy on Friday, Nov. 5, starting at 7 p.m.

Despite having a losing region and conference record, No. 14 Bulldogs limped into the playoffs by losing their last three regional games. Safford will travel to play the No. 3 Valley Christian Trojans (3-1 region, 7-1 conference, 9-1 overall) on Friday, Nov. 5, starting at 7 p.m. Valley Christian previously defeated Safford 48-27 on Oct. 1 in Safford this year.