Wildcats head for ‘the town too tough to die’ Friday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Two unbeaten teams lined up in Lawson Stadium with only one emerging unscathed. Morenci limited Willcox to three-and-out five times in the first half, posting a 21-14 win on Sept. 16. The 4-0 Wildcats travel to 2-2 Tombstone while 3-1 Willcox hosts 3-1 Pima on Friday, Sept. 23.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

TOMBSTONE – The Salt Region Joseph Garcia-coached Morenci Wildcats take on the San Pedro Region Yellow Jackets in “the town too tough to die” Friday, Sept. 23. It will be the first time the pairing will be played on the recently dedicated Mike Hayhurst Field. The game was played on the same field last year, but it wasn’t officially named until two weeks after the Wildcats were there, ending with a 6-49 loss to Benson (Oct. 22).

The Wildcats have outscored the Yellow Jackets 35-15 (1,110-474) or a 20-point margin during 32 prior games with a 26-6 mark since 1982. Morenci has prevailed in 11 straight previous pairings (2009-2021), averaging a 46-14 (506-155) score per game or a 32-point margin. The last two games have been 58-7 (, 2020) in Morenci and 57-6 (Oct. 8, 2021) in Tombstone.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A dozen spirit line members make their own wave with pom-poms in front of the homestand.

Last season, Tombstone finished 2-7 (.222) overall and 0-5 for 6th of six in the San Pedro Region. The Yellow Jackets averaged a 16-38 (147-341) score per game or a 22-point deficit under Dominic Bonilla.

During the previous 10 seasons (2011-20), the Yellow Jackets went 34-71 (.324) overall, averaging a 24-38 (2,373-3,720) score per game or a 14-point deficit. Tombstone was 19-29 (.479) at home and 13-36 (.442) on the road. There was a lone winning season and one post-season game, a first-round exit.

Tombstone went 19-31 (.388) during five seasons (2011, 2015-18) under Mike Hayhurst, 11-19 (.367) during three seasons (2012-14) under Joe Thomas, and 2-15 (.118) during two seasons (2019-20) under Jerry Rhoades.

This season, Tombstone (2-2) has wins of 47-8 over 1-3 Globe (Sept. 9) and 56-0 over 0-4 Avondale Saint Paul II Catholic (Sept. 16). The losses were 16-20 to 3-2 Benson (Aug. 19) and 14-32 to 2-2 Maricopa Sequoia Pathway (Sept. 2). The Yellow Jackets have averaged a 33-15 (133-60) score per game or 18-point margin. The opponents’ combined records are 6-11 (.353).

The Yellow Jackets visit Tucson Catalina (Sept. 30), host Bisbee (Oct. 7), visit Willcox (Oct. 14), Tucson Tanque Verde (Oct. 21), and Tucson Santa Rita (Oct. 28).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Guitarist Joel Joralmon performed with the Pride Band during halftime.

Last season, Morenci finished 11-3 (.786) overall and 4-1 (.800) for 2nd in the region, averaging a 33-15 (467-214) score per game or an 18-point margin. The No. 4 Wildcats ended as state runners-up to the No.2 Phoenix Arizona Lutheran Coyotes with a 14-28 loss. Morenci reached the final with a first-round forfeit by No. 13 Whiteriver Alchesay, a 35-23 quarterfinal win over No. 5 Gilbert Christian, and a 39-14 semifinal win over No. 1 Parker.

During the previous 10 seasons (2011-20), the Wildcats went 71-40 (.640) overall, averaging a 29-19 (3,202-2,163) score per game or a 10-point margin. Morenci was 34-15 (.694) at home and 37-25 (.597) on the road. The post-season games numbered 16, qualifying during 9-10 seasons, and capped by a runner-up finish in 2012.

Morenci went 37-18 (.673) during five seasons (2009-13) under Frank Ogas Sr., 16-15 (.516) during three seasons (2014-16) under Gary Sandoval, and 17-7 (.708) during two seasons (2017-18) under David Gallegos.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Rick Funari (10) upends Ayden Fuentes (7). The Morenci senior netted eight tackles (5 solo, 3 assisted) as the Willcox senior mustered 1.7 (12-20) yards per carry.

The Wildcats are 22-12 (.647) overall, 9-5 (.643) region, and 4-3 (.571) in the post-season during three seasons (2019-21) under Joseph Garcia. Morenci has averaged a 27-15 (930-499) score per game or an 8-point margin during his tenure.

Morenci (4-0) has wins of 30-6 over 3-2 Scottsdale Christian (Aug. 19), 44-0 over 0-4 Tanque Verde (Aug. 26), 44-0 over 1-4 Safford (Sept. 2), and 21-14 over 3-1 Willcox (Sept. 16), averaging a 35-5 (139-20) score per game or a 30-point margin. The opponents’ combined records are 7-11 (.389).

The Wildcats host Globe (Sept. 30), visit Gilbert San Tan Charter (Oct. 7), Miami (Oct. 14), and San Carlos (Oct. 21) prior to the regular season home finale with Pima (Oct. 28).

Also this week for Morenci’s 2022 opponents on Friday (Sept. 23), Scottsdale Christian (3-2) downed Glendale Prep (1-4) 61-8 (Sept. 22), Tanque Verde (0-4) hosts Phoenix North Pointe Prep (0-4), Safford (1-4) visits Tucson Sabino (4-0), Globe (2-3) received forfeit from Tucson Catalina (0-5), San Tan Charter (4-1) hosts Scottsdale Coronado (0-4), Miami (3-2) hosts Saint Johns (2-2), San Carlos (1-3) is idle, and Pima (3-1) visits Willcox (3-1).

Week 4 Results:

Last week, Scottsdale Christian (3-2) fell 7-42 to Pima (3-1), Tanque Verde (0-4) fell 7-16 to San Tan Charter (4-1), Safford (1-4) fell 2-40 to Thatcher (4-0), Tombstone (2-2) defeated Saint John Paul II (0-4) 56-0, Globe (2-3) fell 0-7 to Whiteriver Alchesay (4-0), Miami (3-2) defeated Scottsdale Coronado (0-4) 42-0, and San Carlos (1-3) defeated Sanders Valley (0-6) 36-20.

2A Salt Region

Through four weeks of competition, the San Tan Charter Roadrunners are 4-1 overall and 1-0 region, the Morenci Wildcats (4-0, 0-0), the Pima Roughriders (3-1, 0-0), the Miami Vandals (3-2, 0-1), the Globe Tigers (2-3, 0-0), and the San Carlos Braves (1-3, 0-0).

2A San Pedro Region

The Willcox Cowboys are 3-1 overall, the Tombstone Yellow Jackets (2-2), the Bisbee Pumas (1-3), the Tucson Tanque Verde Hawks (0-4), the Tucson Catalina Trojans (0-5), and the Tucson Santa Rita Eagles (0-5).

3A South Region

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Patrick Chavez (13) bursts through an opening for the Wildcats’ initial touchdown. The Morenci senior averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

The Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian Lions are 5-0 overall and 1-0 in region, the Tucson Sabino Sabercats (4-0, 1-0), the Thatcher Eagles (4-0, 1-0), the Benson Bobcats (3-2, 0-1), the Safford Bulldogs (1-4, 0-1), and the Tucson Palo Verde Magnet Titans (2-3, 0-1).

Region pairings on Sept. 16 resulted in wins of 59-0 for Pusch Ridge over Benson, 55-6 for Sabino over Palo Verde Magnet, and 40-2 for Thatcher over Safford.

Morenci – 21, Willcox – 14

Willcox outscored Morenci 14-7 in the second half, but was unable to overcome the 14-0 first-half deficit, and never led throughout the contest.

The visitors received the opening kick, went three-and-out during five first-half possessions, punting four times and running out of time on the fifth. Willcox began from 65, 80, 84, 84, and 80 yards out, but was limited to minus three of the total 393 needed yards.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Team head coaches Eric Hjalmarson of Willcox, left, and Joseph Garcia, of Morenci, meet after the game during the sportsmanship ritual.

Morenci had one less possession yet five minutes longer than Willcox in the first half, snapping 26 plays and gaining 154 of 190 yards. Its four first-half possessions resulted in twice scoring and twice turning the ball over on downs. The Wildcats covered 71 yards in 11 plays using 6:15 and 66 yards in seven plays using 3:46.

Senior fullback Patrick Chavez crossed the goal line from 25 yards out on 4th-and-7. The conversion pass attempt fell incomplete. Morenci had a 6-0 advantage with 3:51 left in the first quarter.

Class of 2023 teammate Derek Saenz used senior quarterback Daylen Johnson’s pass for a 30-yard touchdown during a 2nd-and-5 play. Junior Michael Casillas added the conversion run for a 14-0 Morenci advantage with 1:26 elapsed in the second quarter.

Morenci’s third possession gained 22 of 38 yards in five plays, but a gain of three on 4th-and-4 turned the ball over. The fourth possession lost five yards on three plays and an incomplete 4th-and-15 pass resulted in another turnover on downs.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Willcox junior quarterback turns to handoff the ball to senior Cristian Pando (10) as senior linemen Mikey Martinez (70) and Evann Truschke (56) along with senior backs Seth Verdugo (23) and Ayden Fuentes (7) move to block for him. The Cowboys entered Lawson Stadium with over 1,000 rushing yards and an average of 11.0 yards per carry but were limited to 8.7 yards fewer.

Willcox had three second-half possessions yet held onto the ball nearly four minutes longer, snapping 21 plays to 17 for Morenci. The Cowboys scored twice and fumbled the ball away on the third possession.

Senior Cristian Pando capped a 57-yard, 10-play drive plus a 15-yard penalty with a 5-yard run on 1st-and-goal. Senior Ayden Fuentes added his first of two conversion kicks to trail 7-14 with 9:05 elapsed in the third quarter. The time of possession was 6:45 after an interception.

A second possession resulted in a fumble on 3rd-and-8 after gaining 33 of 76 yards using 4:46. The third possession covered 74 yards using 2:15 in four plays plus a 10-yard penalty on 4th-and-4.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Senior color guard members Victoria Hernandez, Alexzandra Ayers, and Gracie Murillo handle flags as they perform with the Pride Band.

Junior Kash Macumber connected with senior Josiah Shields for a 69-yard TD, but the Cowboys trailed 14-21 with 1:10 left to play.

Morenci received the second-half kick, was intercepted after three plays gaining four of 36 yards and using 2:10, covered 65 yards in nine plays using 2:59, lost 22 of 57 yards in three plays and punted after 3:45, and gained 16 of 51 yards in two plays using 1:10 before running out of time.

Johnson stepped into the end zone from a yard out and junior Austyn Nelson added the conversion kick for a 21-7 advantage with four seconds elapsed in the fourth quarter.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Junior Austyn Nelson (53) tackles Cristian Pando (10). The Morenci junior totaled 10 stops (7 solo, 3 assisted) while the Willcox senior was limited to 2.9 (19-56) yards per carry.

For the evening, Morenci totaled 293 yards, 216 on 35 carries and 78 on six pass receptions compared to 169 yards, 76 on 33 carries, and 93 on three pass receptions by Willcox.

Chavez averaged 6.6 (10-66) yards per carry, Casillas 6.5 (20-129) yards, Johnson 4.6 (4-18) yards, and Saenz 3.0 (1-3) yards. Johnson completed 6-7 passes for 78 yards with an interception. Saenz averaged 22.0 (2-44) yards per catch, junior Tristen Sanchez 14.5 (2-29) yards, and senior Gavin Baca 13.0 (1-13) yards.

Defensively, 13 Wildcats totaled 70 tackles, 41 solo, and 19 assisted. Sanchez had 11 (9 solo, 2 assisted), Nelson 10 (7 solo, 3 assisted), senior Rick Funari eight (5 solo, 3 assisted), both Chavez (3 solo, 3 assisted) and Johnson (4 solo, 2 assisted) six apiece, and both Baca (4 solo, 1 assisted) and Vozza (3 solo, 2 assisted) five each. Sanchez recovered a fumble, and Vozza had 1 1/2 quarterback sacks, and Baca half a sack.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci players gather on the sidelines to sing the school fight song after the game.

For Willcox, Pando averaged 2.9 (19-56) yards per carry, Macumber 2.0 (1-2) yards, and Fuentes 1.7 (12-20) yards. Macumber completed 304 passes for 93 yards with no interceptions. Sheats caught a pass for 75 yards, senior Seth Verdugo 1-18 yards, and Fuentes 1-0 yards.

Defensively, 13 Cowboys totaled 68 tackles, 26 solo, and 42 assisted. Senior Evann Truschke had 14 (5 solo, 9 assisted), senior Mikey Martinez 13 (8 solo, 5 assisted), Pando 12 (4 solo, 8 assisted), Fuentes eight (3 solo, 5 assisted), and junior Ed Tingle six (6 assisted). Fuentes had an interception.