Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Safford’s Nathan Willms (24) tackles Wickenburg’s Bryson Alder any way he can. Safford couldn’t hold on to the victory Friday night, however, and fell 48-47 in overtime.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – If a team scores touchdowns on its first five possessions, it will usually win the game.
That’s just what the Safford Bulldogs (0-2) did Friday night against the Wickenburg Wranglers (2-0), but it was just not quite enough as Wickenburg escaped Safford with a 48-47 overtime win in a shootout that was the game of the night in the Gila Valley by far.
Safford first-year head coach Eric Hjalmarson didn’t mince words after the contest.
“We have the toughest schedule in 3A football,” Hjalmarson said. “So, every week is going to be a grind.”
After Safford’s only punt of the night gave Wickenburg good field position in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wranglers took advantage and tied the score on third and goal from the 4-yard line. Wrangler quarterback Mike Mindich somehow managed to wrangle his way out of a sack and made a shovel pass to Bryson Alder for the TD.
Wickenburg got the first attempt in overtime, and again Mindich came through under pressure and hit his fullback Joe Moder for a 10-yard TD. Mindich ended up with four passing and two rushing touchdowns on the night.
“Their quarterback was very good,” Hjalmarson said.
Down 48-41 and facing a fourth down and 6 in overtime, Safford quarterback Mason Duros – who also played an outstanding game – escaped from the rush and hit Robert White out of the backfield for the score.
Safford initially lined up for an extra-point attempt but after a timeout decided to go for the 2-point conversion and the win. Unfortunately, it was not to be as Duros’ pass sailed out of the end zone as the Wranglers celebrated their 48-47 victory.
After the game, Hjalmarson said he didn’t hesitate when making the call to go for the win.
“We want to win,” Hjalmarson said. “It was a long game and we were in a position to win. We wanted a win.”
The game was an offensive showcase with neither team able to really stop the other as they combined for eight touchdowns in the first half with just one punt by Wickenburg.
The Wranglers started the scoring after a sustained drive was capped by a 9-yard quarterback sneak by Mindich.
The Bulldogs quickly answered on just its second play from scrimmage as C.J. Scrivner raced around the right side for a 56-yard score.
After the lone punt in the first half, Safford took its first lead of the night when Duros found Nathan Willms for a 12-yard TD, and the Bulldogs were up, 13-7.
Wickenburg’s burly fullback stumbled and bumbled his way to a 26-yard score, but Safford answered right back when Jerick Arbizo out jumped Wickenburg’s Michael Flinn and pulled down the Duros offering for a 20-yard TD.
As if that wasn’t enough, the teams then made some big-time plays as Mindich scrambled 59 yards and took it to the house.
Not to be outdone, Duros then heaved a bomb to Scrivner, who caught it in stride and blew by the closest defender on his way to a 76-yard TD – the biggest play on a night full of big plays.
The Wranglers kept punching back, however, and Mindich scrambled and hit Troy Adamo on a 4-yard TD as Wickenburg retook the lead at halftime, 27-26.
The scoring onslaught continued in the third quarter as Duros threaded the needle to Willms, who shook off two defenders and raced 50 yards for the score. Duros would finish the night with five touchdown passes and one 2-point conversion pass.
Mindich continued the back-and-forth, however, and found Adamo on a 22-yard TD that just went over the outstretched arms of Jarod Garcia to tie the game up at 34.
It what could be said as Safford’s only miscue offensively on the night, Samuel Tobias lost the handle as the Bulldogs were threatening just outside the red zone and Adamo gathered the fumble for the Wranglers on their own 5-yard-line.
Safford’s defense forced Wickenburg to punt for the second time of the night, however, and Arbizo made them pay as he returned it 60 yards to pay dirt.
Up 41-34 late in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs weren’t able to ice the game, and their punt opened the way for the Wranglers to come back.
“What we needed was some stops and we didn’t get them, so it was just kind of a shootout,” said first-year Wickenburg head coach Mike Mitchell. “I thought they (Safford) were a very good football team, so I think our kids just beat a good team.”
“Wickenburg is a good team, and we’re a good team,” Hjalmarson said. “We just came up a little short.”
Safford will next host the Thatcher Eagles (3-0) on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. The Eagles blew away Show Low on Friday night, 60-6, in a game that was over before halftime.
In other prep action:
The Pima Roughriders (0-2) are having a rough start to the year and fell to the Willcox Cowboys (2-0), 24-14. You can read the Gila Herald’s article on that game here. Pima will next host the Alchemy Falcons (2-0) on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.
The Morenci Wildcats (2-1) traveled to Benson and beat the Bobcats (1-1), 21-6. Morenci will next host Willcox on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.
The Fort Thomas Apaches beat the Anthem Prep Eagles (0-2), 28-12, and will next travel to face the San Pasqual Warriors (0-2) on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.
The Duncan Wildkats (2-1) beat the Bowie/San Simon Cougars (0-2), 57-12. Duncan will next travel to play the Salome Frogs on Friday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.