Patriots’ air attack too much for Eagles

L. Scott Bennett Photo: Bretton Dodge weaves his way through the ALA Queen Creek defense. The Patriots’ potent air attack was too much for Thatcher’s ground game to overcome, however, and the Eagles fell, 54-25.

By L. Scott Bennett

THATCHER – It had been 686 days since the last time Thatcher football fans witnessed an Eagle loss.  Unfortunately for the Thatcher faithful, that streak came to an end Friday night when the Eagles hosted the American Leadership Academy (ALA) Patriots.  

ALA, a 3A Central private school located in Queen Creek, brought its well-funded and well managed team to Thatcher to challenge the Eagles on Friday night. With equipment rivaling any college program and two former BYU football stars (Max Hall and Dennis Pitta), both who went on to start in the NFL, on their coaching staff, the Patriots gave the Eagles their first loss in nearly two years, winning the contest 54 – 25.  

L. Scott Bennett Photo/Gila Herald: Former BYU teammates and NFL starters Dennis Pitta, left, and Max Hall coach for the ALA Patriots.

The Patriots received the ball to start the game, and it appeared that Thatcher had them stopped.  Punting on forth down, first game jitters got the best of Thatcher and a penalty extended the ALA drive.  After moving down the field it looked as ifThatcher would hold them to a field goal attempt.  Electing to go for it on 4th and goal from the Thatcher 7-yard line, the Patriots’ offense drew first blood with a 7-yard TD pass.  After a successful PAT, ALA was up midway through the first quarter.  

L. Scott Bennett Photo/Gila Herald: Bretton Dodge dashes around the outside for a big pickup.

Thatcher, who was playing its first game of the season after having the would-be season opener at Morenci rescheduled due to lightning last week, appeared to be shaking off the rust.  Despite being forced to work out those first game kinks playing one of the best rated offenses in the state, the Eagles answered right back when Thatcher junior QB Mark Wren called his own number and took it in from the 11.  After a missed PAT, the Eagles had pulled to within a point at 7 – 6.

Seconds later, on the first play from scrimmage in its second possession, ALA’s Jared Garcia bust through the Eagles line and scampered 70 yards to extend the Patriots lead.  As the quarter ended, it appeared that this one was destined to be decided by who had the ball last, as neither defense could stop these potent offenses.  

As the second quarter started, the Eagles were driving.  With big runs by seniors Jason Carrasco and Bretton Dodge, Thatcher was in the red zone and knocking.  On first and goal from the 5, Wren again did it himself reached the end zone for the second time.  After a successful PAT, the Eagles had pulled to within a point at 13-14.  

However, that was as close as the Eagles would get for the rest of the game. The Patriots scored on their next possession, ,and the ALA defense broke serve when the they shut down the Eagles trying to answer back.  For the first time all night, Thatcher had trouble moving the ball and was forced to punt midway through the second quarter.  The Eagles would not find the end zone again in the first half, being forced to punt again on their next possession. 

ALA punched it in twice more in the first half, moving the ball through the air with big chunks of yardage, bringing the score at the intermission to 35 – 13.

L. Scott Bennett Photo/Gila Herald: Spencer Stevens (81) attempts to block the Patriots’ PAT.

The offensive woes for the Eagles did not improve until late in the third quarter.  After being forced to punt on their first two possessions and giving up two more ALA TD’s, the Eagles got going again when Wren hit senior wide receive Kyle O’Donnal for a 45-yard TD pass.  As the third quarter came to a close, the Eagles were down 19-42.

The Thatcher defense got fired up when senior Collin Thompson caught the Patriots QB Rand Jensen in backfield for a 3-yard loss.  Inspired by the sack, the Eagles forced ALA to punt for the first time in the game.  Still fired up, the defense forced another punt on the next patriot drive.  

After the stop with 8:26 left in the game, Thatcher found the end zone yet again when Wren pitched the ball to Dodge and he took it in from the 13.  With the score, the Eagles made it 42 – 25 and it appeared that a comeback was in the works. 

L. Scott Bennett Photo/Gila Herald: Jason Carrasco (24) makes his way around the left side.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, the Patriots answered back with a quick strike. After a Thatcher fumble on the ensuing drive, ALA had a short field and put the final nail in the coffin. With a 29-point lead and only a little more than four minutes to play, the game was over.  Thatcher tried one last drive to add a bit of respectability to the score, however the offense stalled and the Eagles were again forced to punt.  The Patriots went in to victory formation and ended the game with the 54 – 25 win.  

After the game, Thatcher Head Coach Ramon Morales was complementary of ALA as well as his squad.

“We had a lot of first-game issues like I knew we were going to have,” Morales said. “Not playing last week I think hurt us . . . Your substitutionsand those kinds of things get sideways on you in that first game and we saw some of those issues.”  

L. Scott Bennett Photo/Gila Herald: Corbin Bonafacio (48) pulls down ALA’s Ethen Cluff (10).

“I’m real proud of my boys.  They came back and fought in the second half.”  

The Eagles will travel to Show Low (2-0) on Friday to take on the Cougars of the 3A East. 

In other local prep action:

The Morenci Wildcats (1-0) traveled to Tucson and took out the Santa Rita Eagles (0-1), 42-0. Morenci will next host the Benson Bobcats (1-0) on Friday, Sept. 6. The Bobcats beat San Manuel on Friday, 54-6.

The Pima Roughriders (0-1), lost a heartbreaker to the Arizona Lutheran Academy Coyotes (2-0), 16-14. Pima will travel to Willcox (1-0) on Friday, Sept. 6, to take on the Cowboys.

The Duncan Wildkats (2-0) blew out the Mohave Accelerated Patriots (0-2), 50-6. Duncan will next travel to battle the Cibecue Wildcats (0-2) on Saturday, Sept. 7.

The Fort Thomas Apaches (0-2) lost to the Salome Frogs (2-0), 58-12. The Apaches will try to turn their season around by traveling to battle the Anthem Prep Eagles (1-1) on Friday, Sept. 6.

The Safford Bulldogs (0-1) did not have a game. The Bulldogs will travel to face the Wickenburg Wranglers (0-1) on Friday, Sept. 6.

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