Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Thatcher’s Bretton Dodge (20) dives in for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to secure the victory, 14-0 over rival Safford.
By Jon Johnson
“They’re like a rat on a Cheetos.”Bretton Dodge
THATCHER – Thatcher’s game is the definition of smash-mouth football. They are going to run. The other team knows they are going to run, but knowing and being able to stop them are two different things.
The Safford Bulldogs (1-2) were unable to accomplish that feat Friday night and, in turn, were not able to get any offensive groove going against the Thatcher Eagles (2-1) in the annual battle for the Open Loop Energy Rivalry Trophy. The Eagles scored late in the second quarter and late in the game to come away with the trophy and victory, 14-10.
“We were expecting a tough game and we got a tough game,” said Thatcher head coach Ramon Morales. “We made a couple (of) mistakes. We put the ball on the ground (and) lost our momentum. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but, you know, a win is a win and against a good Safford team it feels pretty good.”
The defensive battle had Safford punting the ball six times and turning it over on a fumble and on downs at the end of the game. Thatcher turned the ball over three times on two fumbles and once on downs, and punted twice.
“We were fortunate that we were able to slow their offense down,” Morales said. “They’ve got some good kids.”
Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald
Safford started out the game with a well-executed screen pass from Mason Duros to C.J. Scrivner to bring the ball near mid-field but the Bulldogs eventually had to punt on their opening drive. The Thatcher defense harassed Duros in the backfield all night, with defensive end Collin Thompson leading the way with at least three sacks and a forced fumble.
Turnovers also hurt Thatcher, as it lost the ball on its first drive into Safford territory and again on 4th and 7 from the Safford 15-yard line. Kyle O’Donnal took the handoff on the reverse and somehow managed to avoid the tackle of Brennon Jurado. O’Donnal then ran for a first down to the delight of the Eagles’ crowd, but their cheers turned as O’Donnal lost the ball at the end of the play and Safford recovered at its own 5-yard line.
Following punts from both teams and another from Safford, Thatcher took over in good field position and quarterback Mark Wren busted off a 17-yard run to mid-field.
Two plays later, Wren kept the ball on a run option and raced 40 yards to pay dirt as the Safford defensive line parted like the Red Sea and Wren had a clear, open field ahead of him.
“It felt so good,” Wren said. “I saw nothing but green grass and I just flew.”
Wren also gave credit for the victory to his team’s defense.
“It’s just really everybody doing their 1-11,” Wren said. “Everyone does their job; we execute; we win. And our defense – we shut their offense down tonight.”
The touchdown gave Thatcher a tenuous 7-0 lead as the teams headed into halftime.
Thatcher owned the time of possession, especially in the second half, and both teams only had one possession in the third quarter, which ended with punts from both teams.
In the fourth quarter, Thatcher again started a drive in favorable position after a Safford punt and Bretton Dodge burst through the middle of the line for a 19-yard pickup to the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line and was just taken down by a shoestring tackle. Two plays later, Dodge spun off a tackler and plowed his way 10 yards into the end zone for Thatcher’s second and final score of the night. The extra point was good, and Thatcher took the victory, 14-0.
“I love my lineman,” Dodge said. “The work they put it in – (its) just so much during the week they’re like a rat on a Cheetos. And they’re just going hard every week, and I just want to say I love them. Because of them, we’re able to score points and we’re able to run.”
Thatcher will next face a Benson team that has been destroying its opponents this year by a combined score of 145-13. The Eagles visit Benson (3-0) on Friday, Sept. 20.
The Safford Bulldogs will try to bounce back at home against the Show Low Cougars (3-1) on Friday, Sept. 20.
The Safford team immediately left the field after the game against Thatcher and players and coaches were not made available for comment.
In other local prep action:
On Thursday, the Morenci Wildcats (2-1) outlasted the Willcox Cowboys (1-2), 14-6. Morenci will next host the Santa Cruz Valley Dust Devils (3-1) on Friday, Sept. 20.
The Pima Roughriders (2-1) got their second win in a row with a 34-14 victory over the Alchesay Falcons (1-2). Pima will next host the Bisbee Pumas (3-0) on Friday, Sept. 20.
In 1A action, the Fort Thomas Apaches (2-2) blew out the San Pasqual Warriors (0-3), 56-0. Fort Thomas will next host the St. David Tigers (1-2) on Friday, Sept. 20.
The Duncan Wildkats (3-1) suffered their first loss of the season to the Salome Frogs (3-1), 40-28. The Wildkats have a bye week next week and will next host the St. David Tigers on Friday, Sept. 27.