Wildcats welcome The Phoenix for quarterfinal Friday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Patrick Chavez (13) leads the Wildcats onto the field for the second half against Tanque Verde. Morenci led 26-0.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Joseph Garcia-coached No. 2 Morenci Wildcats welcome Tonopah Valley for a quarterfinal game on Friday, Nov. 11. The Phoenix is No. 7 (10-1 overall, 5-0 Hassayampa Region for 1st of six) while the Wildcats (10-1, 4-1 Salt Region for 2nd of six) are ranked No. 2 of 46 2A teams.

The Phoenix is winless versus the Wildcats in two regular season pairings, averaging an 11-26 (21-51) score per game or a 15-point deficit. The previous Lawson Stadium meeting resulted in a 21-7 Morenci win in 2017 (Aug. 25). The Maricopa County meeting ended with a 30-14 Morenci win in 2016 (Aug. 26).

Other quarterfinal games are No. 8 Camp Verde (10-1) at No. 1 Pima (10-1), No. 5 Holbrook (11-0) at No. 4 Willcox (9-2), and No. 11 Gilbert Christian (9-2) at No. 3 Scottsdale Christian (9-2).

Tonopah Valley The Phoenix

Last season, The Phoenix finished 1-7 overall, 4th (0-3) in the region, averaging a 16-25 (60-312) score per game or a 9-point deficit under Dustin Johnson. Tonopah Valley posted 0-3 home and 1-4 road marks. The Phoenix, as No. 34, did not qualify for the 2021 post-season.

In the previous 10 seasons (2011-20), The Phoenix went 49-48 (.505) overall, averaging a 25-26 (2,441-2,517) score per game or a 1-point deficit. Tonopah Valley was 27-22 (.551) at home and 22-26 (.458) on the road. There were two post-season games, both one-and-done in 2011 as No. 16 and in 2015 as No. 9.

Tonopah Valley went 24-30 (.444) during six seasons (2016-21) under Dustin Johnson, 8-10 (.444) during four seasons (2012-15) under Nick Gehrts, and 6-5 (.545) during a season (2011) under Ray Karvis.

This post-season, the first-round pairing with No. 10 Laveen Heritage resulted in a 75-14 advancement to the quarterfinals.

Tonopah Valley (10-1 overall, 5-0 region) has regular season wins of 55-31 over Buckeye Odyssey Institute (Aug. 26), 34-28 over California Needles (Sept. 2), 42-41 over Phoenix Valley Lutheran (Sept. 16), 27-14 over Phoenix Veritas Prep (Sept. 22), 58-0 over Wittmann Mountainside (Sept. 30), 55-28 over Kingman Academy (Oct. 7), 04-6 over Glendale Trivium Prep (Oct. 14), 69-0 over Avondale Saint John Paul II Catholic (Oct. 21), and 54-7 over Surprise Highland Prep (Oct. 28). The lone loss is 7-34 to Scottsdale Prep (Sept. 9).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Marcus Lucero (11) picked off a pass and instantly went from defense to offense. The Morenci junior pulled down the first of four interceptions recorded by the Wildcats.

The Phoenix is 6-0 (1.000) at home, 4-1 on the road, and averaged a 47-18 (516-203) score per game or a 29-point margin under first-year coach Brett Davis. The opponents’ combined regular season records were 45-53 (.459). Three opponents qualified for the post-season, going 0-3 during the first round.

Tonopah Valley has totaled 1,419 offensive yards, averaging 5.7 (175-1,002) rushing and 15.3 (283-417) passing after 11 games. Return yards are 226.

Defensively, 16 quarterback sacks, 20 fumble recoveries, 14 interceptions, 23 pass deflections, and eight caused fumbles have been posted.

Morenci Wildcats

Last season, Morenci finished 11-3 (.786) overall and 4-1 (.800) for 2nd in the region, averaging a 33-15 (462-214) 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.

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.

This post-season, the first-round pairing with No. 15 Tucson Tanque Verde resulted in a 32-0 advancement to the quarterfinals.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Jalen Kitcheyan (78) hoists his helmet in the thrill of victory following the first-round win over Tanque Verde.

Morenci (10-1, 4-1) has wins of 30-6 over 6-2 Scottsdale Christian (Aug. 19), 44-0 over 4-4 Tanque Verde (Aug. 26), 44-0 over 3-5 Safford (Sept. 2), 21-14 over 6-2 Willcox (Sept. 16), 56-0 over 3-5 Tombstone (Sept. 23), 56-0 over 3-5 Globe (Sept. 30), 64-13 over 5-3 San Tan Charter (Oct. 7), 49-6 over 5-3 Miami (Oct. 14), and 70-0 over San Carlos (Oct. 21). The lone loss was 20-21 to Pima (Oct. 28).

The Wildcats went 4-1 at home, 5-0 on the road, and averaged a 44-5 (486-59) score per game or a 39-point margin. The opponents’ combined regular season records were 55-44 (.556). Six opponents qualified for the post-season, going 3-3 (.500) during the first round.

A total of 3,878 offensive yards, with an average of 8.7 (361-3,134) rushing and 17.7 (42-744) passing, have been amassed by the Wildcats during 11 games. Return yards are 666.

Defensively, 54 quarterback sacks, 19 fumble recoveries, 16 interceptions, 33 pass deflections, 14 caused fumbles, and one blocked conversion kick have been notched.

2A State Playoffs:

The 2A state first round pared the field in half, sending home seven lower seeds and one higher seed on Nov. 4. Eliminated were No. 16 Chinle (3-7 overall) 55-8 by No. 1 Pima, No. 15 Tucson Tanque Verde (5-6) 32-0 by No. 2 Morenci, No. 14 Phoenix Valley Lutheran (4-6) 42-0 by No. 3 Scottsdale Christian, No. 13 Saint Johns (6-5) 49-7 by No. 4 Willcox, No. 12 Phoenix Veritas Prep (5-6) 42-18 by No. 5 Holbrook, No. 10 Laveen Heritage (8-3) 75-14 by No. 7 Tonopah Valley, and No. 9 San Tan Charter () 42-30 by No. 8 Camp Verde.

Number 11 Gilbert Christian upset No. 4 Scottsdale Prep (8-3) 38-7.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Back-up quarterback Joseph Seballos (12) turns to hand off the ball to a teammate. Morenci gained 301 yards rushing and 55 yards passing.

3A State Playoffs:

The 3A state quarterfinal round pairings are at the higher seeds on Nov. 11. Number 1 Thatcher (11-0) hosts No. 8 Chandler Valley Christian (9-2) and No. 4 Show Low (10-1) hosts No. 5 Surprise Paradise Honors (9-1) in the upper bracket.

The lower bracket has No. 3 Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian (10-1) hosting No. 4 Eagar Round Valley (9-3) and No. 2 Mesa Eastmark (10-1) hosting No. 7 Tucson Sabino (8-3).

The first round eliminated all the lower seeds on Nov. 4. Number 16 Benson (5-6 overall) 62-7 by No. 1 Thatcher, No. 15 Kayenta Monument Valley (6-5) 50-0 by No. 2 Eastmark, No. 14 Mesa American Leadership – West Foothills (5-6) 35-0 by No. 3 Pusch Ridge, No. 13 Blue Ridge (5-6) 56-7 by No. 4 Show Low, No. 12 Payson (7-4) 26-24 by No. 5 Paradise Honors, No. 11 Florence (8-3) 26-13 by No. 4 Round Valley, No. 10 Queen Creek San Tan Foothills (7-4) 49-23 by No. 7 Sabino, and No. 9 Bullhead City Mohave (6-4) 33-19 by No. 8 Valley Christian.

1A State Playoffs:

The 1A championship game will be held on the Scottsdale Coronado campus, 7501 East Virginia Avenue. The No. 4 Williams Vikings (10-1) take on the No. 3 Heber Mogollon Mustangs (9-2) at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12.

Williams eliminated No. 1 Winkelman Hayden (10-1) 56-38 in the semifinals on Nov. 4 and No. 5 Salome (8-2) 67-0 in the quarterfinals on Oct. 28.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Donovan Vozza (9) brings down Tanque Verde senior Braydon Scott (41) following a short gain. The Morenci junior led the team in tackles, totaling 10.

Mogollon ousted No. 2 Saint David (10-2) 48-39 in the semifinal on Nov. 5 and No. 11 Joseph City (5-5) 68-19 in the quarterfinals.

It was Hayden over No. 9 San Manuel 82-20 and Saint David over No. 7 Bagdad (7-4) in the other quarterfinals.

San Manuel defeated No. 8 Superior (6-4) 50-20, Salome defeated No. 12 Chandler Lincoln Prep (4-6) 72-0, Joseph City defeated No. 6 Scottsdale Cicero Prep (6-3) 33-24, and Bagdad defeated No. 10 Colorado City El Capitan (6-4) 46-22 in the first round Oct. 21.

Morenci – 32, Tanque Verde – 0

The teams met during the regular season in Lawson Stadium, with the Wildcats posting a 44-0 shutout on Aug. 26. The post-season pairing ended the same, with the visitors being kept out of the end zone during 11 possessions.

Tanque Verde received the opening kick and was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage. The Hawks punted on 4th-and-21 after six plays, fumbled on 3rd-and-8, fumbled on 4th-and-14, punted on 4th-and-32, were intercepted on 1st-and-10, and turned the ball over on downs after six plays in the first half.

Four second-half possessions ended with a turnover on 4th-and-16 after eight plays, an interception on 3rd-and-13 after six plays, a punt on 4th-and-28 after five plays, and on an interception on 1st-and-10 after four plays.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Fans attending the first-round game dressed to keep warm as the temperature was in the mid-40s.

Morenci ran its offense to score on its initial possession, leading 6-0 following the opening quarter and 26-0 at halftime. A fifth touchdown was added in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats scored four times offensively on the ground and once defensively on a fumble recovery. They covered 40 yards in four plays, 70 yards in eight plays, nine yards on a fumble recovery, eight yards in two plays, and 56 yards in nine plays.

Diminutive junior workhorse Michael Casillas scored three touchdowns, senior Derek Saenz one, and junior Donovan Vozza once on a recovered fumble. A conversion run was added by Casillas after the Saenz TD.

Casillas ran a yard on 1st-and-goal (6-0), six yards on 1st-and-goal (26-0), and seven yards on 4th-and-6 (32-0); Saenz ran 16 yards on 1st-and-10 and Casillas added a conversion run (14-0), and Vozza recovered a fumble to return it nine yards on a 4th-and-14 bad snap (22-0).

The Wildcats’ other first-half possessions resulted in a 1st-and-10 fumble after five plays, a turnover on downs, and taking a knee to end the half.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci maintenance men paint an “M” at mid-field in preparation for the playoff game.

Non-scoring second-half possessions resulted in a turnover on downs following a missed 37-yard field goal attempt after seven plays, a first-play interception, and taking a knee to run down the clock with on first down.

Morenci totaled 256 offensive yards, 201 on 33 carries, and 55 on three pass receptions compared to 218 yards, 82 on 22 carries, and 136 on eight receptions by Tanque Verde.

Saenz averaged 7.7 (2-23) yards per carry, Casillas 6.0 (22-131) yards, and Chavez 5.9 (8-47) yards. Seballos completed 3-4 passes for 55 yards with one interception. Sanchez averaged 20.0 (2-40) yards and Saenz 13.0 (1-13).

Defensively, 13 Wildcats totaled 67 tackles, 47 solo, and 20 assisted. Vozza had 10 (8 solo, 2 assisted), Sanchez (7 solo, 2 assisted) and Patrick Chavez (5 solo, 4 assisted) both nine; senior Rick Funari (3 solo, 4 assisted), junior Andrew Chavez (5 solo, 2 assisted), and junior Marcus Lucero (5 solo, 2 assisted) seven apiece; and senior Dillen Aker (4 solo, 1 assisted) and junior Austyn Nelson (5 solo) five each.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Michael Casillas (7) netted 131 yards on 22 carries against the Hawks. It took multiple Hawks to stop and bring the Morenci junior down. The Wildcats posted a 32-0 first-round one shutout on Nov. 4. Morenci hosts No. 7 Tonopah Valley for a quarterfinal contest on Friday, Nov. 11.

Andrew Chavez, Sanchez, and Vozza each recorded a quarterback sack, junior Emilio Roybal had two interceptions and both Lucero and freshman Derick one each; Vozza four, Nelson 1 1/2, Patrick Chavez, and sophomore Yedidia Luputa one each; Vozza recovered a fumble; and Patrick Chavez, Nelson, and Vozza deflected a pass.

For Tanque Verde, junior Gavin Gilbert averaged 7.0 (1-7) yards per carry, freshman Anthony Torgeson 5.0 (1-5) yards, senior Braydon Scott 4.5 (8-36) yards, senior Matthew Ramos 3.5 (2-7) yards, junior Grayson Bradshaw 3.2 (6-19) yards, junior Michael Mckenna 2.0 (2-4) yards, freshman Sebastian Blakeman 2.0 (1-2) yards, and junior Jacob Cantalicio 2.0 (1-2) yards.

Bradshaw completed 9-15 passes for 141 yards with four interceptions. Mckenna averaged 27.0 (1-27) yards per catch, junior Josh Lopez 21.5 (2-43) yards, junior C.J. Johnson 19.0 (1-19) yards, senior Robert Stacy 13.3 (3-40) yards, and sophomore Kason White 7.0 (1-7) yards.

Defensively, 13 Hawks totaled 86 tackles, 57 solo, and 29 assisted. Scott had 18 (12 solo, 6 assisted), Gilbert 10 (7 solo, 3 assisted), Mckenna nine (6 solo, 3 assisted); senior Race Erickson (3 solo, 4 assisted), Lopez (4 solo, 3 assisted), and Stacy (7 solo) seven apiece; senior Jack Endean six (6 solo), and senior James Torok five (2 solo, 3 assisted).

Senior Aidan Vimmerstedt, junior Eli Clausen, and Mckenna each blocked a punt; sophomore Delon Harrison had an interception, and Lopez deflected a pass.