Pima and Morenci square off for the 2A title in Safford on Saturday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The secret to the Morenci football team’s success is no secret at all. Its linemen have helped open lanes for 4,134 rushing yards on 452 carries plus 767 yards on 43-77 passes. A total of 66 rushing and 14 aerial touchdowns have been scored. The six linemen doing the task are from left, junior tight end Tristen Sanchez (82), senior tackle Gabriel Hernandez (73), junior guard Austyn Nelson (53), senior center Jarel Diaz (65), junior guard Andrew Chavez, and senior tackle Jalen Kitcheyan (78). Top-ranked Pima (12-1) hosts No. 2 Morenci (12-1) for the 2A state title at Safford on Saturday, Nov. 26.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

SAFFORD – They met on Herman BB Andrews Track and Field during a 7-on-7 passing session and Big Man Challenge during off-season preparation on June 14. The Pima Roughriders and Morenci Wildcats meet once again on the same venue months later, to decide the state champion for the 2022 season on Saturday, Nov. 26. The regular season pairing on Oct. 28 was decided during the closing 30 seconds in Lawson Stadium, 21-20 favoring Pima. It resulted in the top two rankings being switched for the postseason.

Steve Carter Photo/Special to the Gila Herald: Jaxon John returns a punt against Willcox.

Top-ranked Pima (12-1 overall, 18.4500 rating) defeated No. 16 Chinle (3-7, minus 8.1021) 55-8 in the first round on Nov. 4, No. 8 Camp Verde (10-2, 8.1504) 61-7 in the quarterfinals on No. 11, and No. 4 Willcox (10-2, 10.7738) 35-7 in the semifinals on Nov. 19.

Second-ranked Morenci (12-1, 16.6379) defeated No. 15 Tucson Tanque Verde (5-6, minus 0.4126) 32-0 in the first round, No. 7 Tonopah Valley (10-2, 9.3201) 52-6 in the quarterfinals, and No. 3 Scottsdale Christian (10-2, 12.4883) 71-40 in the semifinals.

Pima averaged a 50-7 (151-22) score per game or a 43-point margin while Morenci averaged a 52-15 (155-46) score per game or a 37-point margin during the three post-season games.

During the regular season, Pima averaged a 41-10 (408-96) score per game or a 31-point margin. The opponents’ combined records were 61-38 (.616). Six opponents qualified for the post-season, going 4-2 (.667) during the first round, 4-0 (1.000) during the quarterfinals, and 2-2 (.500) during the semifinals.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Michael Casillas (7) outruns Scottsdale Christian defender Josh Phillips (7) for the semifinal games’ initial score. Casillas ended with over 200 yards rushing with only two carries in the fourth quarter. Morenci prevailed 71-40 at Mesa Westwood on Nov. 19.

Morenci averaged a 44-5 (486-59) score per game or a 39-point margin during the regular season. The opponents’ combined records were 55-44 (.556). Five opponents qualified for the post-season, going 3-2 (.600) during the first round, 3-0 (1.000) during the quarterfinals, and 1-2 (.333) during the semifinals.

Which team wants it more? Kickoff is 6 p.m.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci and Scottsdale Christian line up for a semifinal game in Mesa, with No. 2 topping No. 3 to advance into the state championship game.

2A State Tourney

Scottsdale Christian advanced with wins of 42-0 over No. 14 Phoenix Valley Lutheran (4-6, minus 0.2959) in the first round and 53-28 over No. 11 Gilbert Christian (9-3, 4.2941) in the quarterfinals.

Willcox downed No. 13 Saint Johns (6-5, minus 0.1345) 49-7 in the first round and No. 5 Holbrook (11-1, 10.2964) 51-12 in the quarterfinals.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Senior percussion members Gabriel Clancy, Isaiah Aguilera, and Tyler Lewis performed with the Pride Band.

Other first-round exits were made by No. 9 San Tan Charter (7-4, 6.3750), 42-30 to Camp Verde; No. 12 Phoenix Veritas Prep (5-6, 3.1988), 42-18 to Holbrook; No. 6 Scottsdale Prep (8-3, 9.4256), 38-7 to Gilbert Christian; and No. 10 Laveen Heritage (8-3, 5.2469), 75-14 to Tonopah Valley.

No. 2 Morenci Wildcats

Morenci (9-1, 4-1) has regular season wins of 30-6 over 6-2 Scottsdale Christian (Aug. 19), 44-0 over 4-4 Tanque Verde (Aug. 26), 44-0 over 3-5 Safford (Sept. 2), 21-14 over 6-2 Willcox (Sept. 16), 56-0 over 3-5 Tombstone (Sept. 23), 56-0 over 3-5 Globe (Sept. 30), 64-13 over 5-3 San Tan Charter (Oct. 7), 49-6 over 5-3 Miami (Oct. 14), and 70-0 over San Carlos (Oct. 21). The lone loss was 20-21 to Pima (Oct. 28). The Wildcats went 4-1 at home, 5-0 on the road.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Tristen Sanchez deflects a pass intended for Scottsdale Christian junior Caeden Murphy (2) early.

Last season, Morenci finished 11-3 (.786) overall and 4-1 (.800) for 2nd in the region, averaging a 33-15 (462-214) score per game or an 18-point margin. The No. 4 Wildcats ended as state runners-up to the No.2 Phoenix Arizona Lutheran Coyotes with a 14-28 loss. Morenci reached the final with a first-round forfeit by No. 13 Whiteriver Alchesay, a 35-23 quarterfinal win over No. 5 Gilbert Christian, and a 39-14 semifinal win over No. 1 Parker.

No. 1 Pima Roughriders

Pima (9-1, 5-0) has regular season wins of 41-3 over Safford (Aug. 26), 43-0 over Tanque Verde (Sept. 9), 42-7 over Scottsdale Christian (Sept. 16), 27-14 over Willcox (Sept. 23), 54-0 over San Carlos (Sept. 30), 49-0 over Globe (Oct. 7), 67-27 over San Tan Charter (Oct. 14), 64-6 over Miami (Oct. 21), and 21-20 over Morenci (Oct. 28). The loss was 0-19 to Thatcher (Sept. 2). The Roughriders went 5-0 at home, 4-1 on the road.

Last season, the Roughriders finished 7-4 overall, 3rd (3-1) in the region, averaging a 34-14 (371-151) score per game or a 20-point margin. Arizona Lutheran ended the No. 7 Roughriders’ season with a 27-33 state meet quarterfinal loss.

Steve Carter Photo/Special to the Gila Herald: Wyatt Wiltbank makes his way around the left side against Willcox in the semis.

Morenci – 71, Scottsdale Christian – 40

Morenci scored first and never trailed throughout the game. Scottsdale Christian came within four at 19-23, but no closer. The Wildcats led 23-6 after the first quarter, 36-26 at halftime, and 49-32 heading into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats totaled 10 touchdowns, two each by seniors Patrick Chavez and Derek Saenz, junior Michael Casillas, and sophomore Marcus Lucero as well as one by senior Daylen Johnson and junior Tristen Sanchez.

In the first half, the Wildcats scored on four of seven possessions, fumbling on 2nd-and-8 after four plays gaining 40 of 52 yards, covering 65 yards in one play, returning an interception for a 25-yard score, covering 68 yards in five plays, punting after three plays gained eight of 76 yards, covered 56 yards in eight plays, covering 70 yards in two plays, and ran out of time.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Caeden Murphy (2) leans over to catch a pass for the Eagles. The Scottsdale Christian junior caught 10 passes for 197 yards and scored twice in a losing effort.

Casillas ran 65 yards on 1st-and-10 and Saenz made the conversion run (8-0), Chavez intercept a 3rd-and-9 pass for a touchdown and Sanchez added the conversion run (16-0), Johnson ran two yards on 2nd-and-goal and junior Austyn Nelson added the conversion kick (23-6), Chavez ran two yards on 1st-and-goal and Nelson added the conversion kick, and Saenz ran 66 yards on 2nd-and-6 (36-26).

Scottsdale Christian punted after six plays, punted after three plays, was intercepted after two plays, returned a 96-yard kickoff for six a TD (6-16), covered 73 yards in 11 plays (13-23), covered 84 yards after a 5-yard penalty (19-23), punted after three plays, and covered 76 yards in 10 plays (26-36).

The Eagles had junior Andrew Trapp score on a 96-yard kickoff return (6-16), junior Jack Atkinson connect with freshman Caeden Murphy for a 19-yard TD and senior Coby Tabet added the conversion kick (13-23), Atkinson connected with Trapp for an 84-yard TD (19-23), Atkinson connected with Murphy for a 10-yard TD and Tabet added the conversion kick (26-36).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Quarterback Jack Atkinson (12) had time to complete 23-39 passes for 406 yards with one interception and five touchdowns. The Scottsdale Christian junior was sacked only twice, both late in the semifinal game.

In the second half, Morenci scored on five of six possessions, covering 64 yards in five plays, 35 yards in eight plays, 70 yards in 10 plays, 27 yards in four plays, 47 yards in two plays, and gained 14 yards in five plays but turned the ball over on downs.

Sanchez ran 23 yards (42-26), Casillas ran six yards and Nelson added the conversion kick (49-32), Saenz ran seven yards and Nelson added the conversion kick (56-32), Casillas ran four yards and Nelson added the conversion kick (63-32), and Lucero ran six yards and Saenz connected with junior Joseph Seballos for a conversion pass (71-40).

Scottsdale Christian punted on 4th-and-14, covered 68 yards in four plays, was intercepted after gaining 10 yards on 1st-and-10, covered 79 yards in four plays, turned the ball over on downs after losing 13 yards, and took a knee to wind down the clock.

Atkinson connected with Murphy for a 62-yard TD (32-49) and Atkinson connected with sophomore Jaeden Dufek for a 6-yard TD and Atkinson connected with Trapp for a conversion pass (40-63).

Morenci netted 576 yards on 52 carries, averaging 11.1 yards per carry. The Wildcats also had 104 return yards.

Scottsdale Christian totaled 391 yards, 406 on 23-39 passes, and minus 15 on 11 carries.

Saenz averaged 26.5 (4-106) yards per carry, Sanchez 24.2 (5-121) yards, Lucero 10.0 (6-60) yards, senior Daylen Johnson 9.5 (2-19) yards, Casillas 9.3 (24-224) yards, Chavez 5.1 (8-41) yards, and freshman Julien Aragon 1.7 (3-5) yards.

Johnson threw two passes with neither completed.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Patrick Chavez (13) picked off a Scottsdale Christian aerial during the initial seven minutes to score Morenci’s second TD, leading to a 16-0 advantage.

Morenci totaled 70 tackles, 64 solo, and six assisted with 20 different Wildcats making at least one tackle. Nelson had seven (6 solo, 1 assisted); Chavez (6 solo), Lucero (5 solo, 1 assisted), Saenz (6 solo), Seballos (6 solo), and junior Donovan Vozza (5 solo, 1 assisted); Sanchez five (5 solo),

Chavez and Saenz both had an interception; Johnson, junior Emilio Roybal, Saenz, Seballos, and Vozza each deflected a pass; Vozza blocked a kick, and both sophomore Yedidia Luputa and Vozza recorded a quarterback sack.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Derek Saenz (2) averaged 26.5 (4-106) yards per carry while weaving his wave through Eagle defenders. He scored twice.