Pima onto semis with drubbing of Camp Verde

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The two teams watch the coin toss at midfield. Pima defeated Camp Verde 61-7 to advance to the 2A State Football Semifinals and will next play Willcox at Safford High School on Saturday.

To play Willcox at Safford

By Jon Johnson


PIMA – And then there were two. 

That’s how many more games the No. 1 Pima Roughriders football team needs to win this season to become state champions. 

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

The 2A Salt Region Champions hosted the No. 8 Camp Verde Cowboys in the second round of the 2A State Football Playoffs on Friday and it took just one offensive play to realize it was going to be a long night for the Cowboys. Pima ultimately defeated Camp Verde 61-7.

“It was a great win,” said head coach Josh Wilkins who was recently recognized as the 2A Salt Region Coach of the Year. “Every win is a great win but this was great for these seniors. This was the last time on their home field.  

Pima will next be the home team versus No. 4 Willcox (5-0 region, 10-2 overall) at Safford High School on Saturday, Nov. 19, starting at 6 p.m. Pima previously defeated Willcox 27-14 in their regular-season matchup on Sept. 24 in Willcox.

Willcox defeated No. 5 Holbrook 51-12. In the lower bracket, No. 2 Morenci defeated No. 7 Tonopah Valley 52-6 and No. 3 Scottsdale Christian defeated No. 11 Gilbert Christian 53-28. Those two teams will play at Westwood High School in Mesa on Saturday, Nov. 19, starting at 6 p.m. Pima has already defeated each semifinal team in the regular season this year. 

No. 1 Pima 61 No. 8 Camp Verde 7 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Tucker Wilkins leads the way for running back Wyatt Wiltbank.

While much has been said about Pima’s ballyhooed offense, its unheralded defense may actually be even better.  

For the night, Camp Verde turned the ball over five times (three INTs, a fumble, and a turnover on downs) and punted four times, while Pima scored seven straight touchdowns en route to a nine-touchdown night. If not for a failed 2-point conversion, the mercy rule would have been initiated with more than 9 minutes left in the second quarter. The mercy rule starts a running clock once one team has a lead of 42 or more points. 

“We just played great football tonight,” coach Wilkins said. “We appreciate Camp Verde coming and being here. (They’ve got) good kids out there. I just think the time that we’ve put in has really paid off, especially now here in the postseason. We’re excited to see where this thing takes us.”

Pima’s defense scored on the second offensive play from scrimmage when Seth Russell deflected Camp Verde quarterback Tyson Buckley’s pass and Grant Ashby came down with it and took it into the end zone. 

Ashby ended the Cowboys’ next offensive series with another interception, and Pima capitalized off the turnover with a 44-yard TD run by Hayden Blair to go up 13-0 with 6:15 left in the first quarter. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Pima’s QB Seth Russell just gets it off before the pressure from Brice Gorda (55) arrives.

Pima’s defense then forced a punt, and the Roughriders quickly scored again on 3rd and 10 when Russell hit Sam Ray all alone over the middle. Ray streaked 53 yards to put Pima up 20-0 with 4:34 left in the opening quarter of play.

However, the Roughriders weren’t finished with the first quarter, and after getting a short field off a turnover on downs, they looked to add to their advantage. 

Enter Wyatt Wiltbank, who moved the ball down the field off a long lateral from Russell. Then on 3rd and goal, Wiltbank did his Bo Jackson impersonation over Brian Bosworth and lowered the boom on the Camp Verde defender on his way into the end zone and a 27-0 Pima lead after one quarter. 

With the Trojans again backed up deep in their own territory, Buckley stared down his receiver and tossed a deep pass. Unfortunately for him, Jaxon John was sitting there baiting him to do just that and came down with the INT. John returned the pick 27 yards to the 3-yard line, and Russell capitalized on the first play of the second quarter with a 3-yard TD dive to stretch the lead to 34-0. 

The second quarter continued with more of the same as Camp Verde’s drives ended in two punts and a third interception (a heartbreaker touchback INT for Camp Verde). 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Pima QB Seth Russell surveys the field before throwing a 36-yard TD pass to Leland Thompson.

Pima took advantage of good field position and scored two more times in the quarter: a 51-yard reception that was a quick slant from Russell that John took to the house and a 31-yard run from Wiltbank that increased the lead to 48-0 and began the mercy rule running clock. 

John, who was recently named the 2A Salt Region Player of the Year, said the team had some locker room motivation born out of some loose lips from the opposition.

“They were doing a little bit of talking before the game and coach told (us) to come on and put it on em’ and that’s what we did,” John said. “We came out, laid it down, did what we had to do, and came out victorious.”

Neither team could get on track in the third, and with the clock running possessions were fewer. 

Russell hit Leland Thompson on a 36-yard touchdown pass, however, and Pima was cruising 55-0. 

The Trojans continued to play until the last whistle, however, and Buckley began to connect with his receivers. 

Then, with about 3 minutes to play, Buckley tossed a 3-yard touch pass over the Pima linebacker’s head and into the arms of Sam Williams, who was in the end zone. The extra point was good and Camp Verde avoided the shutout but was down 55-7. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Grant Ashby takes a kickoff 64 yards to the house for 6.

But instead of kicking it away, the Cowboys attempted an onside kick. Upback Grant Ashby – remember him from the interceptions earlier – retrieved the kick and subsequently took it back 64 yards to the house to end the scoring on the night as Pima blasted through Camp Verde, 61-7.

Pima will next play No. 4 Willcox at Safford on Saturday, Nov. 19, starting at 6 p.m. in the 2A State Football Semifinals. 

In other local playoff action:  

The No. 2 Morenci Wildcats (4-1 region, 11-1 overall) defeated the No. 7 Tonopah Valley Phoenix 52-6. 

Morenci will next travel to Westwood High School in Mesa on Saturday, Nov. 19, to face the No. 3 Scottsdale Christian Eagles (5-0 region, 10-2 overall). Morenci defeated Scottsdale Christian 30-6 on its opening day Aug. 19, and Pima also defeated Scottsdale Christian 42-7 on Sept. 16 for the Eagles’ only two losses on the year.  

In 3A, the No. 1 Thatcher Eagles (5-0 region, 12-0 overall) defeated the No. 8 Valley Christian Trojans 56-35 in a tough game that saw Thatcher lose its starting quarterback and 3A South Player of the Year, Brandon Napier, go down in the second quarter with a reported bone bruise to his left leg. His status moving forward in the playoffs is reportedly still up in the air. 

Steve Carter Photo/Special to the Gila Herald: Christian Carter celebrates Thatcher’s win.

Thatcher will travel to Mountain Pointe High School at 4201 E. Knox Rd. in Phoenix on Saturday, Nov. 19 to battle the No. 4 Show Low Cougars (7-0 region, 11-1 overall), starting at 6 p.m. Show Low is the 3A Northwest Region Champion, while Thatcher is the overall number 1 seed and is the 3A South Region Champion.