Roughriders burn The Phoenix to the ground in quarterfinals

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Jeremiah Martinez sizes up his defender. The Pima fullback ran for 208 yards on 17 carries and had 4 touchdowns in Pima’s 57-28 rout of Tonopah Valley in the 2A State Quarterfinals on Thursday night in Pima.

Pima moves on to the state football semifinals

Thatcher, Morenci fall in quarterfinals 

By Jon Johnson

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald: Cover Photo By Steve Carter

PIMA – The No. 1-ranked Pima Roughriders continued their quest to repeat as 2A State Football Champions with a 57-28 shellacking of No. 8 Tonopah Valley on Thursday at the friendly confines of Edd Hubbard Field. 

With the win, the Roughriders have been given the nightcap slot against No. 5 San Tan Charter in the semifinals at Westwood High School at 945 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Mesa, AZ on Saturday, Nov. 18, starting at 6 p.m. No. 2 Arizona Lutheran and No. 3 Scottsdale Christian will face off in the other semifinal game, starting at 2 p.m. 

On Thursday, Pima (6-0 region, 12-0 overall) came out and held its opponent to just 7 points in the first half while producing 31 points themselves.  

The vaunted Pima defense that gave up a total of zero points to its regional opponents this year started the game by forcing four punts and an interception from The Phoenix. 

“I think they played outstanding defense in the backfield,” Wilkins said. “I know Jeremiah went over 200 yards, so that’s real big, and I think Brock had two, maybe three sacks by himself plus an assist. We’re just playing really good football right now – opening up great holes, we’re running hard, and then to have the passing game going the way it is right now, I mean, we’re just as complete threat right now.”

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Pima head coach Josh Wilkins instructs his team.

It was believed the defense – along with a strong run game – would be necessary for the win as Pima would be starting its third-string freshman quarterback, Cedrick Grimes – thrust into the spotlight due to injuries.  

It was in Pima’s second offensive series when I knew its freshman QB was more than up for the task, and the play was a simple incompletion. 

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: QB Cedrick Grimes pulls the trigger. The freshman threw for 4 TDs in the game.

Sure, Grimes had performed well on the first series and completed a pass in the flat to Tuddy Smart on his second progression choice that went for a first down to set up the team’s first score, but that wasn’t what clicked it for me. 

No, it was on 2nd and 8 from the 45 on the team’s second possession when Grimes dropped back and very quickly had two defenders heading right toward him. Without hesitation, knowing the situation, Grimes immediately threw the ball out of bounds in the direction of his fullback to avoid taking a 10-plus yard loss on the sack and avoiding the possibility of a turnover on a risky throw under duress. He took the smart play, which was to throw the down away and try again. It was the immediacy with which he recognized the right play to make and then completing it is what let me know he was here to play. 

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Tuddy Smart splits the defense and his britches on this touchdown reception.

That being said, he did miss the very next throw to an open Jeremiah Martinez forcing a punt, but, hey, he is still a freshman. He would make up for it later in the game.

Grimes would finish 12 for 20 for 199 yards and 4 TDs through the air. But the stats don’t tell the whole story as he helmed the team expertly and had no turnovers.

“He throws a great ball,” Wilkins said. “The kids all rallied around him.” He’s our quarterback right now, so we’re all just playing together as a team and playing next man up mentality but Cedrick – he’s just stepping in and playing great football right now and throwing an awesome ball.”

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Tonopah QB Malachi Wilt doesn’t want to have anything to do with Pima’s Brock Haws, who finished with 3 sacks.

Grimes himself was quick to share the credit with his linemen and other fellow players.

“Most of it (credit) goes to my line – they protect me,” Grimes said. “Props to my wide receivers. They played a heck of a game.”

He seemed to have a special connection to Tuddy Smart, who he hit for three touchdown passes and other big shots. One TD was a pro-style play in which Grimes was flushed from the pocket and stepped up to the line of scrimmage before throwing one to the corner with a defender in his face. Smart leaped and corralled the pass deep in the corner and got both feet in bounds (even though you only need one in high school and college football) for the score that left the stadium flabbergasted.

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: QB Cedrick Grimes hits receiver Tuddy Smart for a swing pass that Smart took one of three TDs the pair hooked up on for the night.

Smart finished with 123 yards receiving and his 3 TDs and also had 14 tackles (6 solo and 8 assisted) on defense. 

Photo By Darwin Weech: Sam Ray caught this ball in the back of the end zone and controlled it through the action but the ref couldn’t conceive of such a great play somehow and called it incomplete.

Another amazing touchdown was caught by Sam Ray late in the second quarter – as confirmed by video and photos – but for some reason, the refs decided to say “no” to a great play instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to those who made the play. And that’s why we point it out.

Special teams play helped The Phoenix get on the board after being down 33-0. Dyllon Croff returned the ensuing kickoff to about Pima’s 30 and on 4th and 18 from the 25, Wilt hit Sir-izzik Sanchez-Caldwell to get on the board 31-7, just before the half.  

It was another huge night on the ground for junior fullback Jeremiah Martinez, who finished with 208 yards on 17 carries and 4 TDs. Martinez scored early and often, punching it in from the 1 for the Roughriders’ first score after getting them into scoring position on a big run and then scoring twice in the second quarter – once on a 30-yard run and the other on a long 48-yarder. Martinez finished his scoring night with a 15-yard TD in the third quarter to put Pima up 44-14. 

Tonopah’s QB Malachi Wilt threw for three TDs on the night and had a couple of big conversions on 4th and long, but the game never seemed within reach after Pima went up 17-0.

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Ryker Shupe and his fellow defensive backs shut down Tonopah’s passing for the most part.

Defensively, Pima’s front four set the tone and the defensive backs rang the bell. 

Brock Haws finished with 4 sacks and was in the backfield all night long as The Phoenix threw the ball extensively. The Roughriders also got 3 INTs, one each by Hayden bash brothers Blair and Shinkle, and Wade Peterson. 

The teams went back and forth in the second half with Tonopah getting a touchdown pass to Najee Cooper and Pima responding with a 43-yard TD pass from Grimes to Ryker Shupe to go up 38-14 with 5:30 left in the third quarter. 

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Hayden Blair makes the tackle.

Pima went up 57-21 with 5:58 to play after Smart took a Grimes swing pass 14 yards to pay dirt. The Phoenix kept playing hard and Wilt hit Sanchez-Caldwell on a 47-yard TD pass to end the night’s scoring, 57-28.

With starting junior quarterback Rhett Hughes returning from injury to full practice on Monday and with Grimes playing so well, I asked coach Wilkins if there was a quarterback controversy brewing and who would get the start against San Tan Charter on Saturday.

“Cedrick’s playing really good right now, so we’ll see how we go,” Wilkins said. “We’ll see how (Rhett’s) hand development goes. We don’t know yet.”

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Jeremiah Martinez celebrates the first of four TDs on the night.

No. 2 Valley Christian 21 No. 7 Thatcher 20

Special Teams play and an interception helped lead to the Valley Christian Trojans prevailing over the visiting Thatcher Eagles (3-1 region, 6-5 overall) on Thursday night, who at one time led 20-8. 

The Trojans got a 34-yard field goal, a safety off a blocked Thatcher punt, and then got an INT in the fourth quarter to seal the victory and end Thatcher’s season in the quarterfinals.

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Pima captains meet at midfield for the coin toss against Tonopah Valley. Pima is the only local team left in the playoffs.

No. 3 Paradise Honors 42 No. 6 Morenci 35

It took all it could muster for No. 3-ranked Paradise Honors to hold off a ferocious Morenci rally in the second half to squeak by into the semis. 

Morenci (3-1 region, 7-4 overall) took the 3A South Region in its first year in the 3A Conference under first-year head coach Rishard Davis.