Wildkats resume gridiron practices, on track to host Apaches for 2021 opener Friday

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Fourth-year Duncan football head coach Eric Bejarano offers a briefing before pausing for a water break. The Wildkats will host the Fort Thomas Apaches in their season opener on Aug. 20.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

DUNCAN – The Wildkats came out of quarantine, are behind schedule, and the countdown for the football season opener on Packer Field has begun. The Fort Thomas Apaches are the guests for a 1A South Region contest on Friday, Aug. 20.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Junior Logan Basteen and sophomore Marvin Bennett use a shield during a defensive drill.

It is the 20th meeting of the two teams in the 8-man format. Duncan holds a slight 30-29 (574-542) average score per game or 1-point advantage and is 5-3 on Packer Field with five consecutive regular-season wins. However, Fort Thomas is 3-1 with Eric Bejarano as the head coach and leads the series 10-9. The Wildkats’ home wins were 26-12 (2009), 58-14 (2011), 64-26 (2013), 56-48 (2016), and 26-20 (2019). The losses were 8-14 (2005), 14-26 (2007), and 6-26 (2019 round one).

The 2019 No. 6 ranked Wildkats (7-2) made school history, but not the kind they hoped to. They became the first sixth seed to bow out in four first-round 1A playoffs, succumbing 26-6 to the No. 11 Apaches (5-5) on Packer Field (Oct. 25).

Sixteen of the anticipated 20 squad members were on hand to resume practice sessions on Aug. 10. Ten of the 16 Wildkats were part of the 16-member 2020 roster. Classes started on Aug. 11.

Returning for Bejarano’s fourth season are senior, Austin Bigler; juniors, Logan Basteen, Benjamin Harris, Gary Najar, and Emiliano Ortega; and sophomores, Payton Bigler, Adriano Burrola, Diego Montoya, Rowdy Patton, and Cutter Scarsella.

Making their debut on the team are juniors, Coyote Grove and Carson Potter; sophomores, Marvin Bennett and Preston Clark; and freshmen, Nathan Dunham, Isaac Harris, Devin Pass, Cash Sams, Jonathon Vasquez, and Richard Wortman.

Dan Coats, Joey Bejarano, and Robert Bejarano are the assistant coaches.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Duncan sophomore Cutter Scarsella uses a break to hydrate himself during the resumed practice sessions.

 “Covid (-19) is real, it’s out there,” coach Eric Bejarano reminded the Wildkats in the locker room last Tuesday. He emphasized staying home if sick and getting checked. It would prevent another quarantine that would cause the cancellation of the season.

Additionally, individual water containers were handed out with student-athletes being responsible for filling and getting to both practice sessions and games.

Joining Duncan and Fort Thomas in the region are the Cibecue Wildcats, the Elfrida Valley Union Blue Devils, the Saint David Tigers, the San Manuel Miners, and the Sells Baboquivari Warriors.

The rest of Duncan’s 2021 schedule includes Saint David (Sept. 10), Baboquivari (Sept. 24), and Kearny Ray (Oct. 8) at home along with Superior (Aug. 27), San Manuel (Sept. 3), Cibecue (Oct. 1), and Valley Union (Oct. 15) on the road.

Duncan is 30-25 overall against the rest of its 2021 opponents. The Wildkats are 5-6 versus Superior, 0-1 vs. San Manuel, 8-5 vs. Saint David, 4-0 vs. Baboquivari, 3-0 vs. Cibecue, 2-4 vs. Ray, and 8-9 vs. Valley Union.

Saint David was ranked No. 4 (5-0 seeding) of 20 teams and ended first in the region with a 3-0 mark in 2020, San Manuel No. 10 (3-1), and second at 3-1, Fort Thomas No. 15 (1-3) and third at 1-1, Duncan No. 17 (1-5) and fourth at 1-3, and Valley Union No. 17 (0-5) and fifth at 0-5. Baboquivari and Cibecue did not field teams.

Teams also comprising the 1A conference include Chandler Lincoln Prep, Kearny Ray, Scottsdale Cicero Prep, Superior, Tempe Prep, and Winkelman Hayden in the East Region; Anthem Prep, Bagdad, Bullhead City Mohave Accelerated, Glendale Desert Heights, Phoenix Day School for the Deaf, Salome, and Wittmann Mountainside in the West Region; and Colorado City El Capitan, Fredonia, Heber Mogollon, Joseph City, Mayer, and Williams in the North Region.

Mogollon was No. 1 (6-0) and first at 5-0 in the North, Williams No. 2 (4-1) and second at 3-1, El Capitan No. 7 (4-2) and third at 3-2, Joseph City No. 11 (2-4) and fourth at 2-3, Mayer No. 16 (1-4) and fifth at 1-3, and Fredonia No. 19 (0-5) and sixth at 0-5.

Superior was ranked No. 3 (5-0) and was first at 3-0 in the East, Tempe Prep No. 8 (4-2) and second at 2-1, Lincoln Prep No. 12 (2-4), and third at 1-2, and Cicero Prep No. 14 (1-5) and fourth at 0-3. Hayden and Ray did not field teams.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Gary Najar leads a drill during a resumed football practice session. The Duncan junior is one of 10 returning lettermen on a 20-member squad.

Bagdad was No. 5 (5-1) and first at 4-0 in the West, Anthem Prep No. 6 (5-1) and second at 3-1, Salome No. 9 (4-2), and third at 2-2, Desert Heights No. 13 (1-5) and fourth at 1-3, and Mohave Accelerated No. 20 (0-6) and fifth at 0-4. Mountainside and PDSD did not field teams.

The top two finishers in each region competed for the 2020 state championship. Heber Mogollon topped Williams 38-30 for the title. The Mustangs defeated Bagdad 78-12 in the semifinals and San Manuel 50-6 in the quarterfinals. Williams reached the championship game via wins of 48-26 over Superior and 38-20 over Saint David. Bagdad eliminated Tempe Prep (62-20) and Superior ousted Anthem Prep (76-20) in the other quarterfinal pairings.

Duncan is 76-69 overall, 14-13 section, 34-40 region, 1-10 in the state playoffs, and 39-36 at home during 18 previous 8-man format seasons. Four different coaches have guided the Wildkats, Feliciano Talavera during 2003-06 (19-14, 0-0, 7-11, 1-1, 12-6), Joseph Sesate during 2007-08 (8-8, 0-0, 7-4, 0-1, 3-5), Eldon Merrell during 2009-17 (36-43, 14-13, 10-21, 0-6, 17-21), and Bejarano during 2018-21 (13-11, 0-0, 10-4, 0-2, 7-4).