Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Tristen Sanchez and the Morenci Wildcats rolled over the Benjamin Franklin Chargers in the opening round of the 3A State Football Playoffs on Friday night, 35-7.
By Jon Johnson
On to Round 2Morenci head coach Rishard Davis
MORENCI – Morenci never trailed in its home opener playoff victory Friday night and the Wildcats defeated No. 11 Benjamin Franklin, 35-7.
The playoff victory was a first for Morenci’s new field and the first under new head coach Rishard Davis, who is no stranger to the playoff field in Arizona having previously coached Santa Cruz to the 2A title in 2020.
“I’m glad the boys came out focused and, I mean, we just stuck to our game plan,” Davis said. “We just really wanted to be physical on both sides of the ball and kind of control the game with the running game, so I’m very pleased with how we responded tonight.”
Examining the game, Morenci dominated in all aspects but two plays in particular perhaps were integral in the end result, both near the start of the kickoffs.
Mikey Casillas continued his streak of 100 yards or more per game and has now pushed it to 10 in a row with 103 yards on 26 carries and 2 TDs.
But it was Donovan Vozza who broke out at the start of the game as the defense keyed in on Casillas. QB Joey Seballos faked a handoff to Casillas and made two linemen bite, giving a wide-open lane for Vozza who took the ball on a counter play on the second play from scrimmage. Nobody touched Vozza as he streaked 54 yards to the end zone to give Morenci the early lead, 7-0 with some shock and awe.
“It wasn’t just me,” Vozza said. “It was also my O-line. They’re great. They work hard every day. Coach Davis is always putting them to work and stuff like that . . . Best linemen in the state I think.”
The second pivotal play occurred at the start of the third quarter with the Wildcats leading 21-0. Morenci kicked off to Benjamin Franklin but the returner muffed the ball and when he went to retrieve the fumble Chris Lopez punched it into the end zone where Xavier Fernandez recovered it. (By the way, Fernandez had himself quite the game with not only this pivotal fumble recovery but he also had two INTs.)
The ball was placed at the 3-yard line where Lopez had punched it since Morenci recovered in bounds. And on the very next play, Casillas took it in for his first TD of the night to put the Wildcats up 28-0.
“Watching film, you never underestimate your opponents,” Vozza said. “They looked decent. I told my team, ‘Don’t look ahead. Keep balling out. Don’t give up.’ We came out hot. We came out strong. We kept our foot on the gas.”
Tristen Sanchez had another big night on both sides of the ball. The senior end caught three passes for 60 yards and was a major problem on defense. Sanchez manhandled those attempting to block him and lived in the Chargers’ backfield where he had at least 3 tackles for loss as well as 3 sacks on two different QBs.
On offense, Sanchez had two big completions from Joey Seballos on the team’s second possession, putting them at first and goal from the 3-yard line at the end of the first quarter. However, Seballos’ pass to an open Sanchez was low and no good on 4th and goal from the 1 and the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs.
They would soon get it back on Fernandez’s first INT as Chargers QB Ty Sather’s pass went off his receiver’s hands and into Fernandez’s. The turnover led to an 8-yard run by Seballos in which the kick-out block by the pulling guard Austyn Nelson-Porter is something that should be highlighted on chalkboards.
Seballos went 3-6 on the night for 72 yards and had the rushing TD and one passing TD. Facing a 4th and 6 late in the second quarter, Seballos dropped back to suddenly come face-to-face with not one but two, unblocked blitzing linebackers.
What came next was something to behold. With the skill of an ice skater, Seballos dodged right and used his left arm to swat the defender away, then he dodged to his left and used his right arm to swat the other defender away. Seballos then ran to his left, squared up, and through a dart 25 yards on a line to Andrew Chaves who took it the 15 final yards for the score.
The Chargers got on the board in the third quarter after a big run by Ridge Allen brought the ball into the Red Zone. Ashton Grant then took a couple rushes to finish the drive with a 5-yard TD but Morenci led 28-7. The Wildcats added a final touchdown in the third on a 2-yard Casillas run to end the scoring, 35-7.
The Wildcats will next hit the road for Round 2 and will play at No. 3 Paradise Honors at 12775 N. 175th Ave., in Surprise on Thursday, Nov. 9, starting at 7 p.m.
Paradise Honors defeated the Gilbert Christian Knights in Round 1, 64-23. Both teams have played Thatcher this year, with Paradise Honors winning 35-14 and Morenci winning 21-14.
“We’re excited,” Davis said. “They’ve been playing a good style of ball this year and we want to see if we can hang with them, you know? Our guys believe they can . . . We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
No. 1 Mohave 28 No. 16 Safford 14
Heading into the fourth quarter, Safford had shocked a good portion of the local football world by taking it to the favored Thunderbirds, and were leading 14-6.
However, that’s why they play four quarters, and Mohave showed why they are ranked where they are by blanking Safford in the final quarter 22-0 to win the game.
Mohave will next host No. 9 Blue Ridge in Round 2. The Yellowjackets upset No. 8 Pusch Ridge, 20-17 in the opening round.
No. 7 Thatcher 35 No. 10 Florence 7
Thatcher didn’t have any problem with Florence and never trailed in their home playoff victory. The Eagles will now travel for a rubber match against No. 2 Valley Christian, which defeated No. 15 ALA – Ironwood in a tough game, 24-21.
Valley Christian had a goal-line stand to defeat Thatcher early in the season, 15-14, and the Eagles are looking for some payback on their playoff revenge tour.
The Eagles will land at Valley Christian High School in Chandler at 6900 W. Galveston St. on Thursday, Nov. 9, starting at 7 p.m. In the final Quarterfinal game, No. 4 Sabino takes on No. 12 Round Valley.
If Morenci and Thatcher win, they will face each other in the semifinals at Mesa High School on Nov. 18.
No. 1 Pima 56 No. 16 Holbrook 6
This game also never seemed to be in question.
Freshman QB Cedrick Grimes started due to injuries and went 7-12 for 83 yards and 2 TDs. Not a bad stat line for any QB.
The Roughriders went heavy on the rushing and leaned mostly on Jeremiah Martinez, who finished with 164 yards on 15 carries, 5 TDs on the ground, and 1 TD receiving.
Hayden Blair was also a beast running and catching the ball with 128 all-purpose yards (80 rushing, 13 receiving, and 35 yards on a kickoff return).
Brock Haws led a dominating defense with 5 of the team’s 10 hurries and 2.5 of the team’s 3 sacks on the night.
Pima finished with 557 total yards while the defense allowed a total of 244 yards.
The Roughriders will next host a second-round game against No. 8 Tonopah Valley, which defeated No. 9 Phoenix Christian 34-14 in the opening round.
The game will take place at Edd Hubbard Field in Pima on Thursday, Nov. 9, starting at 7 p.m.
If Pima wins, the Roughriders will play either No. 4 Camp Verde or No. 5 San Tan Charter in the quarterfinals at Westwood High School on Saturday, Nov. 18.