Thatcher moves to 3-0 with win over Pima

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Brandon Napier and the Thatcher Eagles held off the Pima Roughriders 19-0 to remain unbeaten. Here Napier looks to hand off to Cody Jones.

By Jon Johnson

THATCHER – The Thatcher Eagles kept their perfect season intact Friday night with a 19-0 victory over the 2A Pima Roughriders. It was the third year in a row Thatcher has held Pima without a score. 

The game was closer than the score may suggest, with a battle of two conference contenders’ defenses having the better night than the offenses. 

“Pima does it to us every year,” said Thatcher head coach Dan Jones. “I don’t know if they have our playbook or whatever but they cut us up and we struggle with them every year. So, hats off to their defense, they’re very good.”

For the night, Thatcher had five turnovers (one doesn’t really count as it was at the end of the game when they were running out the clock) to seven turnovers for Pima. And while the Roughriders played the Eagles nearly to a stalemate, it was a few mistakes Pima made that cost them the game.

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

The Eagles benefitted from having a short field on multiple occasions, stemming from Pima turning the ball over on downs, a mishandled punt, a blocked punt, and more. Those short fields aided Thatcher to put up the few scores it needed to ensure the victory due to the dominating presence of its defensive line. 

Pima struggled on offense throughout the game and turned the ball over on downs on its first three possessions, had one successful punt, and lost the ball on an interception all in the first half. The Roughriders had to make a go of it without running back Wyatt Wiltbank, who had a big game the previous week against Safford. Wiltbank injured his leg late in the Safford game and sat out the Thatcher contest.  

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Thatcher’s Kody Bingham looks to make a move.

With Thatcher’s defense being so dominant, it allowed coach Jones to go for it on fourth down multiple times without worrying too much about if the team didn’t make it.

“Our defense was playing really well, so we felt like taking a couple of gambles on offense,” coach Jones said. “We said ‘go for it’ and we did and made a couple of good calls.”

After converting a fourth down to get into the Red Zone, Pima’s defense stepped as Seth Russell dislodged the ball from Farris and Leland Thompson recovered the fumble. Thompson took off down the right side with a cadre of blockers, but Napier fought off a block and pushed Thompson out of bounds at midfield.  

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Pima’s Seth Russell dislodges the ball from Thatcher’s Koye Farris.

Later in the second quarter, Thatcher again didn’t hesitate to go for it on fourth and long. After getting stuffed on three straight plays, Thatcher faced a 4th and 10 from the Pima 35. 

Brandon Napier dropped back as far as he could to draw the defense to him before tossing a soft pass into the air toward Koye Farris, who was the responsibility of Pima linebacker Tuddy Smart. Smart had been hand-checking with a Thatcher lineman and went to shed the block and make a tackle. Farris made a move and got by and headed toward the sidelines, where he was sprung by a block from a Thatcher player coming from the end zone back toward the play. 

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Brandon Napier gets the pass off before being hit.

Farris raced the 35 yards down the sideline for the TD and Thatcher went into halftime up 7-0. 

It was Thatcher’s defense that set up its offense for its next score in the third quarter after Cody Jones raced around the blind-side edge and knocked the ball out of Russell’s hand just prior to a pass. The ball bounded backward and was recovered by Pima, but the play resulted in an 18-yard loss and forced a punt attempt. 

On the ensuing punt attempt, Jacob Rasmussen blocked the kick and Thatcher took over at Pima’s 25-yard line. The Eagles made the most of the extremely short field, and Farris went untouched on a 5-yard dive to put Thatcher up 13-0. 

“Our front seven are pretty nasty,” coach Jones said. “The back four are coming along – not giving a whole lot of room to throw to, so I think that defense is pretty good.”

After both teams not being able to score on each other, Pima went for it late in the fourth and gave up a short field once again when they didn’t convert. 

However, the Roughriders’ defense still played tough, and Thatcher pulled out another fourth-down conversion with a 26-yard pass from Napier to Cody Jones to Pima’s 5-yard-line. 

Ayden Bingham finished the scoring a few plays later with a 2-yard TD dive, and Thatcher prevailed 19-0. 

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Jacob Rasmussen blocks a Pima punt attempt.

Thatcher will have a week off to heal before traveling to its crosstown rival Safford on Sept. 16. 

Pima (1-1) will look to play a member of its own conference on Friday as it hosts the Tanque Verde Hawks (1-1)

In other local prep football action: 

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: Pima will play a team from its own conference next week. Here, quarterback Seth Russell brings their flag onto the field.

In 3A, Morenci defeated Safford 44-0. Safford (1-2) will host Pueblo (1-0) on Friday, starting at 7 p.m. Morenci (3-0) will have the week off and will next host Willcox (2-0) on Sept. 16. 

In 1A, Cicero Prep defeated Fort Thomas 47-7, and San Manuel defeated Duncan 40-18. Fort Thomas (0-3) will next travel to face the Dishchii’bikoh Wildcats on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. Duncan (1-1) will host St. David (3-0) on Friday.