Wildcats head to Edd Hubbard Field to battle Roughriders on Thursday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A reassembled offensive line opens up lanes for the ball carriers and is the secret of Morenci’s success thus far. The linemen, two tackles, two guards, and the center move into position to run some plays during the pre-game warm-ups in Benson. They are, from left, senior tackle Austyn Nelson (53), sophomore guard Dean Chee (65), senior center Javier Hernandez (72), junior guard Santi Gallegos (55), and sophomore tackle Isaiah Cook (77).

Morenci evens series with Bobcats at 18-18

By Raymundo Frasquillo

PIMA – The Josh Wilkins-coached Pima Roughriders welcome the Morenci Wildcats on Thursday, Sept. 7. It will be the 27th meeting of the two teams since 1985 when both were 2A schools.

The Roughriders won the last two recent pairings by an average score of 36-20 (71-39) or a 16-point margin, but the Wildcats won the previous five by an average score of 28-10 (141-52) or an 18-point margin. Morenci has an 18-8 advantage with a 25-14 (661-370) average score per game or an 11-point margin over the Graham County boys.

Photo Courtesy Stan Bonifacio Sports Photography: Tuddy Smart and the Pima Roughriders hope to continue their winning ways against Morenci on Thursday night.

During the previous five seasons (2018-22), Morenci was ranked 4th of 38, 15th of 39, 5th of 30, 4th of 39, and 2nd of 38 teams in the 2A Class, respectively, fifth or higher four times while Pima was 14th, 20th, 17th, 7th, and 1st. Morenci was involved in 11 (6-5) postseason games during the same span while Pima played in seven (5-2).

Thus far, Pima (2-0 overall) has averaged a 29-23 (57-45) score per game or 6-point margin with wins of 34-25 over Safford (Aug. 25) and 23-20 over Scottsdale Christian (Sept. 1).

The 3-0 Wildcats have totaled 65 points and allowed six points in wins over Queen Creek American Leadership – Ironwood (6-0, Aug. 18), Eagar Round Valley (24-6, Aug. 25), and Benson (35-0, Sept. 1).

Pima Roughriders (2-0 overall, 0-0 region)

The Roughriders visit Saint Johns (Sept. 15) and Miami (Sept. 22) before hosting Florence American Leadership – Anthem South (Sept. 29), Globe (Oct. 6), and Whiteriver Alchesay (Oct. 13), visit San Carlos (Oct. 20), and host Eloy Santa Cruz (Oct. 27) to complete their regular season schedule.

Pima is competing in the 2A Black Region with Alchesay, American Leadership – Anthem South, Globe, Miami, San Carlos, and Saint Johns.

Morenci Wildcats (3-0, 0-0)

The Wildcats follow this week’s fourth consecutive non-region road pairing with the initial 2023 home contest. The Lakeside Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets will be the first opponent to enter Lawson Stadium with the redone artificial playing surface on Sept. 15.

Morenci’s region (3A South) schedule includes hosting Safford (Sept. 29), visiting Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian (Oct. 6), hosting Fountain Hills (Oct. 13) and Tucson Sabino (Oct. 20), and visiting Thatcher (Oct. 27).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Lawson Stadium playing surface contractors move lettering into position before setting it in place. The August work is part of the finishing touches for the Sept. 15 home opener with Lakeside Blue Ridge.

The Wildcats are a combined 17-24-1 (.405) versus Round Valley (3-2), Sabino (1-0), Safford (8-20-1), and Thatcher (5-2) as a 3A team plus 47-77 (.379) overall versus Round Valley (1-11), Benson (17-18), Pima (18-8), Blue Ridge (0-1), Safford (2-8), Pusch Ridge (0-1), and Thatcher (9-30) as a 2A team.

Fountain Hills meets Morenci for the first time, as did American Leadership – Ironwood.

2023 Morenci opponents

Through three weeks of play, Morenci’s opponents are a combined 17-7. The Week 2 results (5-4) were 37-8 over Saint Johns by Round Valley, 23-20 over Scottsdale Christian by Pima, 58-0 over Fort Defiance Window Rock by Blue Ridge, 34-7 over Benjamin Franklin by Pusch Ridge, and 53-20 over Crimson by Sabino while the losses were 10-23 by American Leadership – Ironwood to Gilbert Christian, 26-29 by Safford to Florence, 13-51 by Fountain Hills to Campe Verde, and 14-15 by Thatcher to Chandler Valley Christian; Week 1 results (8-1) were 28-2 over Douglas by American Leadership – Ironwood, 62-6 over Maricopa Sequoia Pathway by Benson, 38-14 over Saint Johns by Blue Ridge, 28-0 over Phoenix Bourgade Catholic by Fountain Hills, 34-25 over Safford by Pima, 19-6 over Sahuaro by Sabino, 24-21 over Show Low by Pusch Ridge, and 40-0 over  Crimson by Thatcher; and Week 0 results (4-2) were 60-12 over Kayenta Monument Valley by Blue Ridge, 35-14 over Payson by Safford, 37-13 over Yuma Kofa by Fountain Hills, and 55-28 over Coolidge Sabino. Benson and Thatcher both posted losses, 13-43 to Bisbee and 14-35 to Surprise Paradise Honors, respectively. Round Valley, Pima, and Pusch Ridge did not play.

Morenci – 35, Benson – 0

It clearly was not the Class of 2022 Bobcats facing the Wildcats in Benson. Those Cats went 4-0 in three seasons with an average score per game of 35-7 (104-20) or 28-point margin.

The current version was unable to cross into the end zone, punting four times, on 4th-and-23 once and on 4th-and-10 thrice, and being intercepted on st-and-15 during the other first-half possession. Total yards advanced were 18 of 344 or five percent in 18 plays.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Michael Casillas (7) did not let a torn jersey slow him down in Benson. The Morenci senior running back scored thrice while averaging 11.5 (18-207) yards per carry, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the team’s rushing yardage, and surpassing 4,500 yards during 36 games he’s played in.

Four second-half possessions resulted in moving the ball 35 of 257 yards or 14 percent in 10 plays. The Bobcats punted on 4th-and-10, were intercepted on 1st-and-10 and on st-and-15, and caught a pass on 1st-and-10 for six yards as time expired.

Meanwhile, the visiting Wildcats scored during their first four possession, from 52, 83, 57, and 16 yards away. Senior Donovan Vozza capped the six-play drive with a 19-yard run on 2nd-and-11, senior  Michael Casillas covered the distance on 1st-and-10, senior Andrew Chavez capped an 11-play drive with a 14-yard run on 4th-and-7, and Casillas capped a 5-play drive with a 1-yard run on 1st-and-goal. Senior Anthony Ballesteros added the conversion kicks to give Morenci a 28-0 advantage with 3:58 left in the first half. The fifth possession ended with a 4th-and-17 incomplete pass as time ran out.

Morenci scored once in four second-half possessions, covering 59 yards in five plays as Casillas ran in from 15 yards out on 2nd-and-10. Ballesteros added the conversion kick for the final score.

The Wildcats were intercepted on 3rd-and-4 during their first possession, turned the ball over on downs after gaining 19 yards in six plays during their third possession, and punted on 4th-and-10 to end their final possession.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Accurate measurements were made prior to positioning endzone lettering, cutting and setting in place, and applying adhesive.

Morenci advanced the ball 201 of 262 needed yards or 77 percent in the first half and 84 of 243 yards or 35 percent in the second half.

For the game, Morenci gained 346 yards, 316 on 42 carries, and 30 on three receptions compared to 85 yards, 59 on 10 carries, and 26 on four receptions by Benson.

Individually, Chavez averaged 14.0 (1-14) yards per carry, Casillas 11.5 (18-207) yards, Vozza 7.6 (5-38) yards, senior Joseph Seballos 6.3 (3-19) yards, senior Emilio Roybal and junior Marcus Lucero both 3.3 (3-10) yards, sophomore Julien Aragon 2.8 (5-14) yards, sophomore Derick Lytle 2.3 (3-7) yards, and freshman Dayton Penry 1-(minus 3) yards.

Seballos 3-7 passes for 30 yards with one interception. Sanchez caught a pass for 24 yards, and both senior Bradley Weiss and Vozza one each for three yards.

Seballos completed 2-4 passes for 29 yards. Sanchez caught a pass for 18 yards and Weiss one for 11 yards.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci junior Christopher Lopez (23) runs down Benson senior Daniel Hackett (36) following a pass reception. Hackett advanced the ball 20 of the 26 yards in four catches made by the Bobcats.

Defensively, three interceptions, two quarterback sacks, and a fumble recovery were posted in addition to 30 total tackles (28 solo, 2 assisted).

Sanchez had nine tackles (8 solo, 1 assisted) and two quarterback sacks; junior Xavier Fernandez had three solo tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery; Casillas had three solo tackles, Lucero had three tackles (2 solo, 1 assisted), and both Aragon and Roybal an interception apiece.

For the Benson, junior Flint Davis averaged 8.6 (5-43) yards per recorded carry, and senior Dalton Crockett 3.2 (5-16) yards. Crockett completed 3-18 passes for 26 yards with senior Daniel Hackett hauling down 2-25 yards and senior Tristan Goodwin 1-1.

.Defensively, 67 total tackles (26 solo, 33 assisted) and an interception were recorded. Crockett had 17 tackles (9solo, 8 assisted), junior Harby Von Wormer 11 (5 solo, 6 assisted), Goodwin seven (4 solo, 3 assisted), senior Gabriel Anderson seven (1 solo, 6 assisted), junior David Harris six (3 solo, 3 assisted), and Hackett five (1 solo, 4 assisted). Sophomore Rawley Evans made the interception.