Wildcats welcome Pumas for the 2021 football season opener Friday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The Wildcats lined up against a blocking sled on the first day of practice on July 26. Morenci welcomes Maricopa Sequoia Pathway to Lawson Stadium for the 2021 season opener Friday, Aug. 27.

Morenci has 16 all-region honorees in 28 returnees

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Joseph Garcia-coached Morenci Wildcats will make their 2021 debut hosting the Maricopa Sequoia Pathway Pumas on Friday, Aug. 27. The kick-off is 7 p.m. in Lawson Stadium.

The teams were to meet during the play-in round last season, but the Pumas forfeited after having to quarantine for the ongoing global health crisis. A week later, the Wildcats’ season came to an end for the same reason.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Linemen practice getting off the ball in unison against garbage cans.

A total of 49 student-athletes were on hand for the initial Morenci football practice session on July 26, as many as showed up for 2020’s Sept. 8 first day. There were 51 at the peak through the third week, including 28 returnees, two with three letters, 10 with two, and 16 with one. The first day had 35 attend in 2019 and 27 in 2018.

Heading the returning Wildcats are three-year senior lettermen and all-region honorees Tony Roybal (1st team) and Brendon Enriquez (2nd team).

Two-year lettermen include seniors Dominick Chavez, Shawn Hudman, Jericho Sanchez, and Kade Summer along with juniors Dillen Aker, Gavin Baca, Patrick Chavez, Daylen Johnson, and Derek Saenz.

The one-year lettermen are seniors Demitri Biggs, Deshae Patten, Richard Trott III, and Gabriel Yanez; juniors Rick Funari, Gabriel Hernandez, and Jalen Kitcheyan; and sophomores Michael Casillas, Andrew Chavez, Albert Cobos, Angelo Hammond, Austyn Nelson, Emilio Roybal, Tristen Sanchez, Joseph Seballos, Joshua Smith, and Donovan Vozza.

Other 2020 first-team all-region honorees included Jericho Sanchez, Hudman, and Saenz. Second team members were Baca, Casillas, Patrick Chavez, Johnson, Nelson, Tristen Sanchez, and Summer.

Receiving honorable mention were Briggs, Dominick Chavez, and Trott.

Additionally, Jericho Sanchez and Hudman received all-conference (all-state) recognition, Sanchez on the second team, and Hudman honorable mention.

Newcomers to the program include juniors Jarel Diaz and Carter Skinner; sophomores Anthony Ballesteros, Ryan Biggs, Melecio Biggs, Derek Jones, Aaron Mason, Desmond Moreno, John Provencio, Damiene Rivera, and Bradley Weiss; along with freshmen Payton Basteen, Christopher Carbajal, Brian Clark, Xavier Fernandez, Bryant Figueroa, Santiago Gallegos, Alex Gonzales, Yedidia Luputa, Trent Nelson, Gage Rodriguez, Jordan Romero, and Omar Torres.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Jericho Sanchez hydrates himself during a break. The returning Morenci senior lineman earned all-region first-team honors along with second-team all-conference (all-state) recognition.

A total of 36 Wildcats participated in the off-season daily weight room sessions, as well as the 7-on-7 passing sessions and big man challenges during June.

Garcia has only one rule the Wildcats need to follow, be the best version of yourself in order to help the team. It includes taking advantage of the off-season opportunities for individual improvement, being punctual to practice sessions, having a positive attitude on and off the field, being respectful to themselves and others, wash gear regularly, and maintaining maturity and professionalism.

In his third season as Morenci head coach, Garcia is assisted by Ruben Casillas, Matthew Garcia, Frankie Gonzales, Art Martinez, Jason McEuen, Benji Morales, Josh Sandoval, and Esai Vanegas. Six of the nine adults are products of the Morenci schools, Casillas (Class of 2019), Matthew Garcia (2019), Gonzales (2017), Martinez (1989), Morales (1990), and Vanegas (2017). The other three graduated from neighboring schools, Clifton (Sandoval), Duncan (Joseph Garcia), and Pima (McEuen).

The Wildcats are in the San Pedro Region with Benson, Bisbee, Pima, Tombstone, and Willcox.

There are 45 teams competing in the 2A Class with nine regions this season, up from 30 in five regions during 2020. The teams are Camp Verde, Glendale Prep, Kingman Academy, Parker, and Surprise Highland Prep in the Agua Fria Region; Chandler Prep, Laveen Heritage, plus Phoenix schools Arizona Lutheran, NFL Yet, and Veritas Prep in the Gila Region; Avondale Saint John Paul II Catholic, California Winterhaven San Pasqual, Glendale Trivium Prep, Tonopah Valley, and Wellton Antelope in the 2A Hassaympa Region; Holbrook, Saint Johns, Sanders Valley, and Whiteriver Alchesay in the Little Colorado Region; Eloy Santa Cruz, Sequoia Pathway, plus Tucson schools Catalina, Santa Rita, and Tanque Verde in the Rillito Region; Gilbert Arete Prep, Gilbert Christian, Globe, Miami, and San Carlos in the Salt Region; Keams Canyon Hopi, Pinon, Teec Noc Pos Red Mesa, and Rock Point in the San Juan Region; and Phoenix Madison Highland Prep, Phoenix North Pointe Prep, Phoenix Valley Lutheran, Scottsdale Christian, and Scottsdale Prep in the Verde Region.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Shawn Hudman, right, and junior Patrick Chavez get set to attack blocking shields during a drill. The teaching aids were held by Josh Sandoval and Jason McEuen, respectively. Hudman earned 2020 all-region first-team honors as well as all-conference (all-state) honorable mention while Chavez was named all-region second team.

Morenci is a combined 432-309-9 overall in 750 games played during the last 75 seasons (1946-2020); and 92-57 overall, 47-27 at home, and 44-40 on the road against its 2021 opponents since switching to the 2A Class in 1982. They have played in Lawson Stadium since then. The most recent decade (2011-20) has the Wildcats with a 35-19 overall mark, 17-8 at home, and 19-11 on the road versus the same 10 opponents, averaging a score of 27-20 (1,437-1,105) per game or a 7-point margin.

2021 San Pedro Region Schedules

Morenci hosts Sequoia Pathway (Aug. 27), Globe (Sept. 10), Phoenix Madison Highland Prep (Sept. 17), Saint Johns (Sept. 24), and Willcox (Oct. 22). The Wildcats are at Eagar Round Valley (Sept. 3), Bisbee (Oct. 1), Tombstone (Oct. 8), Benson (Oct. 15), and Pima (Oct. 29).

Benson entertains Tucson schools Pusch Ridge Christian (Aug. 27) and Santa Rita (Sept. 3), Phoenix NFL Yet (Sept. 17), Pima (Oct. 1), and Morenci (Oct. 15). The Bobcats visit Tucson Tanque Verde (Sept. 10), Phoenix Veritas Prep (Sept. 24), Bisbee (Oct. 8), Tombstone (Oct. 22), and Willcox (Oct. 29).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Senior Tony Roybal catches a pass during a scrimmage with the Roughriders in Pima last week. The 3-year Morenci letterman earned all-region first-team honors in 2020.

Bisbee meets Tucson Catalina (Aug. 27), Tucson Santa Rita (Sept. 24), Morenci (Oct. 1), Benson (Oct. 8), Willcox (Oct. 15), and Pima (Oct. 22) at Warren Ballpark. The Pumas are at Miami (Sept. 3), Douglas (Sept. 10), Sequoia Pathway (Sept. 17), and Tombstone (Oct. 19).

Pima welcomes Thatcher (Sept. 10), Scottsdale Christian (Sept. 24), Willcox (Oct. 8), Tombstone (Oct. 15), and Morenci (Oct. 29). The Roughriders are at Miami (Aug. 27), Safford (Sept. 3), Tucson Santa Rita (Sept. 17), Benson (Oct. 1), and Bisbee (Oct. 22).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Demitri Briggs sidesteps an obstacle during a drill. The Morenci senior running back earned all-region honorable mention last season.

Tombstone hosts Chandler Prep (Sept. 3), Tucson Catalina (Sept. 24), and Willcox (Oct. 1). The Yellow Jackets travel to Tucson Santa Rita (Aug, 27), San Carlos (Sept. 10), Tucson Tanque Verde (Sept. 17), Morenci (Oct. 8), Pima (Oct. 15), Benson (22), and Bisbee (29).

Willcox has Globe (Aug. 27) and Tanque Verde (Sept. 3) at home before visiting Queen Creek San Tan Foothills (Sept. 10), Phoenix Valley Lutheran (Sept. 17), Phoenix North Pointe Prep (Sept. 24), Tombstone (Oct. 1), Pima (Oct. 8), Bisbee (Oct. 15), Morenci (Oct. 22), and Benson (Oct. 29).

Joseph Garcia is in his third season as Morenci head coach; Chris Determan in his 19th season at Benson, Brian Vertrees in his fifth season at Bisbee, Eric Hjalmarson (Willcox) and Jim Hughes (Pima) both in their second seasons for their respective schools; and Dominic Bonilla in his first season at Tombstone.

2020 Recap

Last season, Benson was first in the San Pedro Region with a 4-0 record, Morenci second (4-1), Willcox third (3-2), Pima fourth (2-2), Bisbee fifth (1-4), and Tombstone sixth (0-5).

Parker was first in the Agua Fria Region with a 4-0 record, Glendale Prep second (4-1), Trivium Prep third (2-2), Kingman Academy fourth (2-3), Tonopah Valley fifth (2-3), and Saint John Paul II sixth (0-5).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Brendon Enriquez, right, schools sophomore Donovan Vozza, beating him off the snap, during a practice session blocking drill.

Santa Cruz was first in the Gila Region at 2-0, Arizona Lutheran second (2-0), Sequoia Pathway third (2-1), Chandler Prep fourth (1-1), Antelope fifth (1-1), and Heritage sixth (0-5).

Saint Johns ended first in the Salt Region with a 4-0 record, Miami was second (4-0), Queen Creek San Tan Charter third (3-2), Arete Prep fourth (2-3), Globe fifth (0-5), and Holbrook sixth (0-5).

A 4-0 mark vaulted Scottsdale Christian to first in the Verde Region, Scottsdale Prep was second (3-1), Valley Lutheran third (1-2), Veritas Prep fourth (0-1), Camp Verde fifth (0-1), and North Pointe Prep sixth (0-3).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci junior quarterback Daylen Johnson tries to elude a Pima defender during a scrimmage there last week.

Eliminated during the play-in round were No. 16 Pima (2-4 seeding) 28-7 by top-ranked Benson (7-0), No. 15 San Tan Charter (3-5) 42-12 by No. 2 Scottsdale Christian (7-0), No. 14 Veritas Prep (3-3) 41-8 by No. 3 Santa Cruz (6-1); No. 13 Willcox (3-3) 41-8 by No. 4 Arizona Lutheran (5-0); No. 12 Sequoia Pathway (4-2) forfeited to No. 5 Morenci (6-1), No. 11 Glendale Prep (5-3) 56-20 by No. 6 Parker (5-0), No. 7 Chandler Prep (4-2) 21-14 by No. 10 Saint Johns (5-1), and No. 9 Miami (5-2) 60-42 by No. 8 Scottsdale Prep (6-1).

In the quarterfinal round, No. 8 Morenci (7-2) forfeited to No. 1 Benson, No. 7 Saint Johns ousted No. 2 Scottsdale Christian (8-1) 27-21, No. 3 Santa Cruz ran away from No. 6 Scottsdale Prep (6-2) 55-6, and No. 4 Arizona Lutheran slipped past No. 5 Parker (6-1) 32-30.

Arizona Lutheran (7-1) and Saint Johns (7-2) were sent home with losses to Benson 34-27 and to Santa Cruz 27-20, respectively. Santa Cruz (10-1) emerged with the title via a 42-7 score over Benson (10-1).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci sophomore Micheal Casillas uses a block by teammate Shawn Hudman to gain some yards in Pima last week. Casillas was named to the all-region second team last season.