Wildcats scrimmage Bulldogs; welcome Eagles for football season opener Aug. 23

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Returning Morenci senior quarterback Brandon Blair checks the defensive alignment before taking the snap.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

DOUGLAS – Winners left Armando de Lucas Stadium in Douglas Aug. 15. There were no losers exiting the athletic venue. The scoreboard read 0-0 prior to the start of the scrimmage and the same when it was turned off. It was lit up to check if it worked properly. An official score was not kept for either team, and both teams remained unbeaten with a zero loss record.

The teams wore practice jerseys, the hosts clad in light jerseys and the visitors in dark jerseys, each with no numbers on them. Plays that worked and those that didn’t were noted by both coaching staffs.  It was an opportunity for two programs, the Douglas Bulldogs and the Morenci Wildcats, to improve. There are specific areas both teams will need to address and correct. That was the reason for the scrimmage. It was a litmus test of where they were at that point.

A 5-member officiating crew was on hand. Rule changes were mentioned before each varsity team snapped 40 plays, and the junior varsity 20.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Sierra Vista official Lee Elaban reviews rule changes in effect this season prior to the start of a scrimmage Aug. 15.

In the end, under the lights, the players and coaches lined up to “high five” the opposing team members. Lengthy team meetings followed in opposite end zones.

“We did not score, but we moved the ball on offense,” first-year Morenci head coach Joseph Garcia said. “We’re doing great things. Everyone played. It’s a beginning.”

The junior varsity scored twice, on a 55-yard Kaden Summer run and on a 16-yard Dillen Aker fumble recovery.

Douglas’ varsity scored on a long pass play and was kept from crossing the goal line at the junior varsity level. There will not be a regular-season meeting of the two programs at either level.

The Wildcats disembarked at Lawson Stadium an hour into the next day, went home to rest, and most attended classes before the ensuing practice session held prior to the start of the weekend.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: First-year head coaches Joseph Garcia, left, and Hunter Long meet prior to the start of the scrimmage.

One of his soon to be post-game acts, making certain ice is available for treating bruised players, was performed by Coach Garcia before the start of the next practice session.

Morenci and Douglas both have four more practice sessions before the season opener in Week Zero. The Wildcats host the Thatcher Eagles in Lawson Stadium and the Bulldogs welcome the Tucson Tanque Verde Hawks on Aug. 23.

Thatcher and Morenci met last in early July in 7-on-7 Passing and Big Man Challenge sessions, hosted by Thatcher, at Eastern Arizona College. The Eagles were in Snowflake for a scrimmage with Gilbert North American Leadership and Snowflake Aug. 16.

During the previous 75 seasons (1944-2018), the Wildcats are 18-38 (.321) overall versus the Eagles and 10-17 (.370) in Morenci during the same span.

Thatcher has posted a combined 46-6 overall record in the most recent four seasons (2015-18), averaging a score of 42-10 (2,206-436) or a 32-point margin. The Eagles went 7-3 (2015), 12-2 (2016), 13-1 (2017), and 14-0 (2018) with a 12-0 post-season record. Meanwhile, the Wildcats went 28-17, or 6-4, 5-6, 8-4, and 9-3 in the same 4-year span, with a 2-4 post-season record and an average score of 30-21 (1,356-924) per game or a 9-point margin.

However, the Wildcats were the only team to limit the Eagles to 15 points and shutout for three quarters in 2018. All of Thatcher’s points were scored in the third period.

Morenci’s last win over Thatcher came during the 2013 regular-season finale, 26-14 (Nov. 1) in the home of the red and black-clad boys since 1982. Eight days later, the Eagles began the first of a six-game win streak over the Wildcats. The scores were 29-6 (Nov. 9, 2013) in Mickelson Stadium, 27-20 (Oct. 31, 2014) in Thatcher, 29-0 (Sept. 16, 2015) in Morenci, 35-14 (Sept. 16, 2016) in Thatcher, 36-6 (Sept. 15, 2017) in Morenci, and 15-0 (Aug. 17, 2018) in Thatcher.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Seniors Zachary Esparza and Omar Ortega lead the linemen onto the field.

Thatcher has averaged a score of 31-8 (185-46) per game or a 23-point margin in the past six games and won eight of the most recent 10, 30-14 (298-143) or a 16-point margin. The Eagles are 13-6 (.684) with an average score of 25-16 (483-296) per game or a 9-point margin versus the Wildcats in Lawson Stadium.

Garcia follows two-year head coach David Gallegos (17-7 overall, 2-2 state playoffs) whose teams twice ended in the quarterfinal round, 45-7 to top-ranked Round Valley in Eagar during 2017 and 27-14 to No. 5 Phoenix Christian in Morenci during 2018.

Morenci ended 8-4 overall, 7-3 in the regular season for No. 8 in 2A and 1-1 in the post-season during 2017, averaging a score of 29-24 (955-784) per game or a 5-point margin.

Last season, the fourth-ranked Wildcats were 9-3 overall, 8-2 in the regular season and 1-1 in the post-season, and averaged a score of 33-12 (401-140) or a margin of 21 points.

Beginning the 2019 campaign with Thatcher (2018 rating: 20.0352 for No. 1, regular season: 10-0, post-season: 4-0) in Lawson Stadium on Aug. 23, Morenci also hosts Benson (0.8268 for No. 9, 6-4, 1-1) on Sept. 6, Eloy Santa Cruz (minus 15.5074 for No. 44, 4-6, 0-0) on Sept. 20, Bisbee (minus 1.2802 for No. 21, 5-5, 0-0) on Sept. 27, and Pima (2.3257 for No. 14, 3-6, 0-1) on Oct. 25.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Douglas senior quarterback Trey Rose III hands the ball to senior running back John Ballesteros on the first play. Morenci junior lineman Clayton Basham stopped him short of the line of scrimmage.

The Wildcats visit Tucson Santa Rita (minus 17.2901 for No. 37, 0-10, 0-0) on Aug. 30, Willcox (4.1015 for No. 10, 7-3, 0-1) on Sept. 12, New Mexico Bayard Cobre (3-7, 0-0) on Oct. 4, Eagar Round Valley (12.0198 for No. 3, 8-2, 3-1) on Oct. 18, and Saint Johns (7.4717 for No. 7, 7-3, 2-1) on Nov. 1.

Morenci and Thatcher along with Pima, Round Valley, and Saint Johns are in the 2A Black Region. Thatcher ended No. 1 (4-0) in the region, Round Valley No. 2 (3-1), Morenci No. 3 (2-2), Saint Johns No. 4 (1-3), and Pima No. 5 (0-4).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci sophomore defender Richard Trot III rushes the quarterback.

Last season, the five Black Region teams each qualified for the post-season, No. 14 Pima exited in the first round with a 45-0 loss to No. 3 Round Valley; No. 10 Willcox exited in the first round with a 29-8 loss to No. 7 Saint Johns; No. 4 Morenci exited in the quarterfinals with a 14-27 loss to No. 5 Phoenix Christian; and No. 1 Thatcher went 14-0 and outscored four opponents by an average score of 44-6 (177-25) to earn a third consecutive gold ball trophy.

The Eagles’ run had wins of 56-0 over No. 16 Phoenix North Point Prep in round one, 50-6 over No. 9 Benson in the quarterfinals, 35-7 over No. 5 Phoenix Christian in the semifinals and 36-12 over No. 3 Round Valley for the 2018 championship.

Benson was No. 1 (4-0) in the San Pedro Region, Willcox No. 2 (3-1), Bisbee No. 3 (2-2), and Santa Rita No. 5 (0-4); Santa Cruz No. 4 (3-2) in the Agua Fria Region; and Cobre No. 3 (2-2) in 3A District 3.

A total of 35 student-athletes were on hand for the first day of practice, 41 will be available at the start of week four, and the class breakdown is eight seniors, 13 juniors, six sophomores, and 14 freshmen.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Multiple Wildcats swarmed the signal-caller as an assistant coach looks on.

The seniors are Angel Arrellin, Brandon Blair, Carlos Bray, Zachary Esparza, Matthew Harrington, Isaiah Nofchissey, Omar Ortega, and Sam Puente.

Juniors out for the team include Hector Aguirre, Frankie Araiza, Clayton Basham, Raven Carmen, Patrick Fields, Joseph Hernandez, Torman Lang, Hugo Mancinas, PaulDaniel Moreno, Lance Morey, Samuel Sauls, and Alfredo Vigil.

The sophomores are Dominik Chavez, Brenden Enriquez, Tony Roybal, Kaden Summer, Richard Trott III, and Gabriel Yanez.

Members of the Class of 2023 are Austin Aguila, Dillen Aker, Devynn Avant, Gavin Baca, Joshua Biggs, Dimitri Biggs, Patrick Chavez, Coen Epperson, Rick Funari, Gabriel Hernandez, Dalen Johnson, Jalen Kitcheyan, Derek Saenz, and Jericho Sanchez.

Garcia is in his 14th year of coaching football, the seventh in Morenci, and the first as the MHS head coach. He also was an assistant under Frank Ogas (2013) and Gary Sandoval (2014-16) plus coached seven seasons (2006-2012) in Willcox.

Benji Morales, Matthew Casillas, Isiah Aguinaga, Andrew Esparza, Frankie Gonzales, Jason McEuen, Joshua Sandoval, and Esai Vanegas are assisting Garcia.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Linemen took turns getting to the quarterback during a Big Man Challenge in Thatcher on July 11. Morenci senior Zachary Esparza defends against Thatcher senior Greyson Shreck’s best effort. The Wildcats welcome the Eagles to Lawson Stadium for the season opener Aug. 23.

Since 1944, the Wildcats are 118-134-4 (.461) against its 2019 regular season opponents. Morenci is 1-2 (.333) versus Tucson Santa Rita, 17-14 (.548) versus Benson, 25-22-1 (.521) versus Willcox, 3-4 (.429) versus Eloy Santa Cruz, 20-21-1 (.476) versus Bisbee, 10-7-1 (.556) versus New Mexico Bayard Cobre, 4-15 (.211) versus Round Valley, 18-6 (.750) versus Pima, and 2-5 (.286) versus Saint Johns.

History favors Morenci’s combined 2019 opponents, who went 63-51 overall last year, 53-46 in the regular season and 10-5 in the post-season. There was a state champion, a state runner-up, a semifinalist, a quarterfinalist, and two who’s 2018 seasons ended in the first round, slated to face Morenci beginning this week.

But, the Wildcats are not lining up against the past this season. The quest to be the best in 2019 begins Friday, Aug. 23. Kick-off is in Lawson Stadium at 7 p.m.

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