L. Scott Bennett Photo/Gila Herald: Safford junior Alyxx Garcia fights for every inch and goes down hard after a big gain. The Bulldogs fell just short Friday night, losing to the Snowflake Lobos, 8-7.
By L. Scott Bennett
SAFFORD – With just seconds to play and Safford threatening on the 5-yard-line down 8-7 to Snowflake, the voice of Al Michaels rang throughout the minds of many over 30 as the winning field goal attempt sailed wide right and Safford came up just short in its season opener.
The 2019 high school football season kicked off Friday night when the Snowflake Lobos came to the Gila Valley to take on the Safford Bulldogs. The game, which was delayed by the weather, proved to be a defensive struggle which was only be decided with 9 seconds remaining. Despite coming up on the short end, the now 0-1 Bulldogs showed that they are here to play in 2019 and will be a team to watch out for this season.
After a slightly delayed kickoff due to lightning, the Lobos received the opening kick. From the opening drive on, the Safford defense showed the fans that they came to play, punishing the Snowflake backs. After a brutal hit on a Snowflake running back, Safford forced a Lobo fumble which was recovered by the Bulldogs.
With the takeaway, Safford started the drive from their own 45 and quickly move the length of the field. Behind junior running back C.J. Scrivner, the Bulldogs offense moved the ball with purpose. After big runs by Scrivner and others, the Bulldogs offense set the stage for a 2-yard Scrivner TD run. Tacking on the extra point, the Bulldogs took an early 7 – 0 lead with 5:05 to play in the first quarter.
The game would be defined by the defense, as neither team would find the endzone again until the fourth quarter. With excellent defensive play, the Bulldogs cruised through the first half holding the Lobos scoreless. A key QB sack by Safford’s junior linebacker Alyxx Garcia and then a fumble recovered by junior Samuel Tobias helped the Bulldogs take its 7 – 0 lead into the locker room at intermission.
The Bulldogs started the second half a little sloppy and were flagged for multiple infractions. Moving backward after a holding call, Safford had a 65-yard TD run by Tobias called back due to a hold. After a promising drive was cut short by penalties, the Bulldogs were forced to punt.
The lightning kicked up again with just more than eight minutes left in the third quarter and play was suspended. Not only was the lightning present, but the wind was blowing hard as well. Due to the weather, the players were called off the field for a little more than 30 minutes.
As play resumed, the weather delay appeared to favor the Lobos. While the unfavorable conditions did not hurt the Safford running game, the wind hampered the Lobos passing attack. Once the wind died down, Snowflake could once again throw the ball and started consistently moving the ball down the field.
Overcoming an interception, Lobos QB Ethan Ramage moved Snowflake into scoring position late in the fourth quarter. With 6:48 left to play, the Lobos were lined up in the Red Zone when a Lobo running back scampered for a 14-yard run to the endzone. With the score, Snowflake had pulled within a point. Opting to go for the two and the win, Ramage found tight end Payson Cardon in the back of the endzone. With the successful conversion, Snowflake went up 8 – 7.
The Bulldogs were not done, however, as the methodically moved the ball down the field. After surviving fourth down, the Bulldogs found themselves on the Lobo 5-yard-line with 9 seconds to play. With insufficient time to run a play and then kick a field goal, the Bulldogs decided to kick for the win on first down. Unfortunately for the Safford faithful, the kick went wide right and Snowflake needed only one play in victory formation to secure the win.
While the Bulldogs found themselves on the losing end of a hard-fought game, there was plenty for Safford fans to be excited about. The Safford defense appeared disciplined and focused forcing three turnovers and only allowing the Lobos the lone score. Additionally, Scrivner and Tobias showed exceptional skills as ball carriers. With such talent on both sides of the ball, Safford is going to win some games, and will certainly be a contender in 3A play this season.
The 1 – 0 Lobos will travel to Queen Creek next Friday to challenge the Benjamin Franklin Chargers. The 0 – 1 Bulldogs will be off next Friday before traveling to Wickenburg to take on the Wranglers on Sept. 6.
Editor’s Note: Safford head coach Eric Hjalmarson was suspended for the game due to the incident at a football camp in the Pinetop-Lakeside area in which numerous players held down another player and repeatedly punched him. The incident was apparently penance to return to the tent after having been kicked out for passing gas.
In other local prep action
In 2A action, the Morenci versus Thatcher game went through multiple lightning delays and the teams never even got out of the locker room. The game was rescheduled for Oct. 11 and will have free admission.
Thatcher will next host the American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek Patriots (1-0) on Friday, Aug. 30. In its opener, the Patriots blasted the American Leadership Academy-Ironwood Warriors (0-1), 51-0.
Morenci will travel to take on the Tucson Santa Rita Eagles (0-0) on Friday, Aug. 30.
The Pima Roughriders (0-0) will open its season on the road Friday, Aug. 30, against the Arizona Lutheran Coyotes (0-0).
In 1A action, the Duncan Wildkats (1-0) opened its season with a 26-20 home victory over the Ray Bearcats (0-1).
Duncan will travel to Flagstaff on Friday, Aug. 30, to play in the Walkup Skydome against the Mohave Accelerated Patriots (0-1), which lost its opener to the Salome Frogs (1-0), 72-0.
The Fort Thomas Apaches (0-1)at the Baboquivari Warriors (1-0) game was stopped due to lightning with five minutes left in the second quarter with both teams tied, 14-14. The Apaches stayed the night and the game was restarted at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
After taking a 20-14 lead at halftime, the Warriors battled back to tie the game, 20-20 in the fourth quarter. The Warriors then outlasted the Apaches and sent them home packing, 32-26.
Fort Thomas will next host the Salome Frogs (1-0) on Friday, Aug. 30.
This post was corrected at 10:44 a.m. to reflect name changes due to a printing error on the Safford program.