Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Scottsdale Prep’s Devon Strader attempts to tackle Pima’s Grant Ashby after Ashby pulls down the INT. Ashby had three interceptions in Pima’s 57-14 opening-round playoff victory Friday night.
Will travel to Phoenix to face No. 2 Arizona Lutheran
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – The Pima Roughriders (3-1 region, 7-1 conference, 7-3 overall) didn’t disappoint in its home playoff opener Friday night, and easily dispatched the visiting Scottsdale Prep Spartans 57-14.
No. 7 Pima will next travel to Phoenix to face the No. 2 Arizona Lutheran Academy Coyotes (4-0 region, 9-1 conference, 10-1 overall) which defeated No. 15 Trivium Prep in the opening round 61-20.
For Pima, its defense and running game on offense was dominant all game. While Scottsdale Prep did not attempt a single punt, it did turn the ball over nine times, including four interceptions, three times on downs, and two fumbles.
Conversely, Pima scored touchdowns on seven of its first eight possessions on its way to an eight-touchdown night against one punt and two turnovers (fumble, downs).
Workhorse running back Brody Brown led the way with three touchdowns (all in the first half), followed by his partner in the backfield Hayden Blair and bulldozer Wyatt Wiltbank with two TDs each, and freshman Aiden Espinoza with the closer. On the defensive side, Grant Ashby recorded three INTs (along with going 8-8 on extra-point kicks), Tuddy Smart had an INT, and Justin James got a fumble recovery on a forced fumble by Pepper Hughes, and Pierce Ashby got a fumble recovery on a forced fumble by Clark Ashby.
While the Spartans did have their troubles in the air (4 INTs), quarterback Tyler Johnson did throw for 231 yards with 18 completions on 31 attempts.
Scottsdale started out hot from the air and was already in Pima’s Red Zone after only two passes. The drive stalled at the 19, however, when Leland Thompson broke up a long pass.
Pima then steamrolled its way downfield and ran all over Scottsdale Prep. The drive culminated with a 7-yard TD dash by Blair.
Scottsdale began to come back through the air but Grant Ashby recorded his first interception and returned it 41 yards to the Spartans’ 27-yard line.
Brown then followed his blockers and went 21 yards for the score to put Pima up 14-0.
Facing 4th and 9, Spartans receiver Wills Niemann got lost in the shuffle and Johnson hit him for a big first down pickup. The pair immediately hooked up again on the very next play for a 21-yard TD to cut into Pima’s lead, 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. It would be the closest the Spartans would get.
It took Pima three plays to answer Scottsdale. Wiltbank took the kickoff back 55 yards to the 34. From there, quarterback Seth Russell ran over would-be tacklers as he went 25 yards to the 9 for a 1st and goal. Brown then finished it off with his first TD on the night and Pima was up 21-7.
Back came the Spartans but again they were thwarted by a Grant Ashby INT, this time at the Roughriders’ own 7-yard line.
Ashby then showed he could catch balls from his own quarterback as well as he hooked up with Russell on a 38-yard toss to move the chains on 3rd and 5.
Blair got the ball down to the 10 on a nifty run, and Brown finished it off from there for his third TD in the first have to put Pima up 28-7.
Scottsdale showed some mettle, however, and Johnson led them back with a crazy across the body over the middle pass while fading to his left that Carson Boyll caught at the 5 and took in for the score. The TD cut Pima’s lead to 28-14 as the teams broke for the half.
Pima received the second-half kickoff and methodically ran the ball down the field, capped by a 10-yard TD by Wiltbank.
The Roughriders’ defense increased its dominance in the third quarter, and Tuddy Smart batted a Johnson pass and brought it down for the INT. Pima capitalized on the turnover with a 7-yard TD run by Wiltbank and Grant Ashby connected with Sam Ray on a fake field goal 2-point attempt to put Pima up 43-14.
Pima also took the ball away on the ground as Pepper Hughes forced a Johnson fumble that was recovered by James. Again, Pima capitalized on the turnover as Blair got his second TD of the night on a 6-yard run to make the score 50-14.
Late in the fourth Pima lost the ball when Connor Hesse stripped Blair but got it right back when a forced fumble by Clark Ashby was recovered by Pierce Ashby.
The recovery let some freshman and other junior varsity players get some varsity game time and freshman Aiden Espinoza made the most of his time with a bit 25-yard run followed by a 2-yard TD to end the night’s scoring at 57-14.
The game ended, fittingly, with Grant Ashby getting his third interception and the team’s fourth for the contest.
The Roughriders will next travel to face the No. 2 Arizona Lutheran Coyotes in the quarterfinals.
In other playoff news, No. 4 Morenci (4-1 region, 9-1 conference, 9-2 overall) won its matchup with No. 13 Alchesay by forfeit due to COVID-19 protocols. Morenci will host No. 5 Gilbert Christian on Friday for the quarterfinal.
In 3A, No. 10 Thatcher (3-1 region, 6-2 conference, 8-3 overall) came back from down early to upset No. 7 Pusch Ridge 35-26. Thatcher will next travel to face No. 2 Snowflake (5-0 region, 9-1 conference, 10-1 overall) which hasn’t lost a game since its season opener against Valley Christian (24-38) on Aug. 27.
No. 3 Valley Christian defeated No. 14 Safford 49-0 will play No. 6 River Valley in the other quarterfinal matchup in the same bracket.