Photo By Stan Bonifacio Sports Photography: Izaiah Alvarado returns a kickoff back across midfield. Blue Ridge spoiled Safford’s Homecoming, 14-13.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – The visiting Blue Ridge Yellowjackets took just enough advantage of eight Safford turnovers to spoil the Bulldogs’ Homecoming, 14-13, in front of a packed crowd Friday night.
The Bulldogs moved the ball up and down the field but time after time gave the ball back before scoring.
The turnovers started on the Bulldogs’ first possession when Monster Rios fumbled while fighting for yards. The defense forced a three-and-out, but on the first play back on offense Jojo Ruelas’ pass sailed over Cole Goodman’s hands and into the awaiting arms of the Yellowjackets’ Trevor Bires, who brought it back to the 20 to put Blue Ridge in scoring position.
The Yellowjackets capitalized on the turnover on 4th and 8 from the 17 when quarterback Luke Berlin hit David Simmons on a button hook and the wideout caught the pass, pivoted to the sideline, and made a beeline to the end zone to put Blue Ridge up early, 6-0.
After a Safford punt, the Bulldogs’ defense stepped up again and Iaziah Alvarado picked off Berlin. However, during Alvarado’s runback, Matt Simington knocked out the ball from behind and Blue Ridge recovered the fumble to take back the ball.
Safford forced another Blue Ridge punt deep in Bulldogs’ territory, but on the ensuing offensive play, Cole Goodman caught a pass from Ruelas but fumbled and Bires recovered for Blue Ridge for his second takeaway of the night.
The Yellowjackets again capitalized on the turnover and on 3rd and 12 from the 15 Berlin hit Simmons over the middle for the TD. Blue Ridge successfully converted a 2-point conversion to go up 14-0 with 6:11 left in the first half.
Safford desperately needed someone to step up and make an offensive play and Alvarado answered the call by dodging would-be tacklers as he brought the ensuing kickoff back 50 yards to the Yellowjackets’ 25.
From there, the Bulldogs fed Rios a few times, and on 3rd and goal Ruelas bobbled the snap but Rios picked up the ball and made his way around the left side for the score. Michael Chavez added the extra point and Blue Ridge’s lead was suddenly cut in half, 14-7, with 2:40 left in the second quarter.
Safford’s defense then did exactly what it had to and held Blue Ridge to a three-and-out, and the Bulldogs got the ball back with about two minutes in the half and the ball at their own 43.
The Bulldogs pressed down field and with just seconds left Rios scored a 16-yard TD on a 2nd and 1. The snap was bobbled on the ensuing extra-point attempt, however, and Safford failed to convert. The teams went into halftime with Blue Ridge clinging to a 14-13 lead after Safford scored twice in six minutes.
It appeared the Bulldogs’ momentum carried over to the third quarter when Karlo Harris lost his grip on the handoff and Gary Smith recovered for the Bulldogs on the Yellowjackets’ 35.
However, Blue Ridge’s defense held, and on 4th and 2 at the 27, Rios came up just short and Safford turned the ball over on downs.
The Bulldogs later returned the favor and stopped the Yellowjackets on a 4th and 1, but the offense continued to sputter and a bobbled snap on a Safford punt attempt gave Blue Ridge the ball in excellent field position in Safford territory.
Safford’s defense again stepped up and had a goal-line stand to end the third and start the fourth. Facing a 4th and 2 from the 5, Blue Ridge faked the run and instead did a play-action pass to their tight end in the back of the end zone but at the last second Ruelas deflected the ball and turned it back over to Safford.
The Bulldogs drove to near midfield but the drive stalled on a failed fake punt attempt on 4th and 3 from the 44.
Safford again called on its defense and again they answered the bell with Xavier Owens and Micah Chaplin converging on Berlin for a sack fumble, which caused a big loss of yardage and forced a punt.
Safford’s final offensive push ended when the helmet of Karlo Harris knocked the ball out of Rios’ hands and the fumble was recovered by Blue Ridge for Safford’s eighth turnover of the game.
Blue Ridge had to make just one first down from there and then ran out the clock in victory formation.
With no time to lick their wounds, Safford (0-1 region, 2-4 overall) will get back to region play and next travel up to Morenci (0-0 region, 3-2 overall) on Friday, Sept. 29, starting at 7 p.m. to check out their new artificial field.
In other local prep football action:
Pima (2-0 region, 5-0 overall) defeated Miami 57-0. The Roughriders will next host the ALA-Anthem Titans on Friday, Sept. 29, starting at 7 p.m.
Duncan (1-3 region, 1-4 overall) fell to the Baboquivari Warriors 32-42. The Wildkats will next travel to face the Ray Bearcats on Friday, Sept. 29, starting at 7 p.m.