By Raymundo Frasquillo
EAGAR – The coaching staff laid out the game plan and prepared the players, but advancement into the semifinals did not occur for the Wildcats.
Morenci’s quest for the 2017 state title came to an end in the quarterfinals, via a 45-7 loss to host and top-ranked Round Valley as the No. 8 seed in Eagar.
Eleven seniors completed their eligibility, ending with an 8-4 record and setting the bar, up from 5-5, for the underclassmen. Justice Boling, Nicolas Carrasco, Steven Chavarria, David Corona, Devin Martinez, Brayden McCarthy, Robert Morey, Jacob Munoz, Patrick Provencio III, Isiah Sanchez, and Markus Sanchez were the Class of 2018 members whose football days together ended on the road.
The Wildcats were escorted after embarking from Lawson Stadium to the 3-way Junction by two Morenci Fire engines, two Clifton Police cars, and two Greenlee County vehicles.
“We had a big send-off and a lot of fans at the game,” first-year head coach David Gallegos said. The Pride Band and cheerleaders were also in the house.
In the dome, each team had 10 offensive possessions during the second-round pairing and both turned the ball over on an interception and a fumble, and both had a possession end with no time left.
The host Elks scored four rushing and two aerial touchdowns along with six conversion kicks plus a field goal compared to a lone Isaac Pacheco 55-yard run plus Christopher Roybal conversion kick by the Wildcats.
Morenci’s other possessions resulted in three punts, a turnover on downs, and on another fumble.
“We were close in the first half,” Gallegos said. “It was different in the second half. They are very quick on defense.”
Round Valley took the opening kickoff and scored on its initial possession, threw an interception, and split the uprights with a field goal for a 10-0 first-quarter advantage, added a 24-yard pass, and ran out of time before heading into the locker room.
Morenci punted after Collin Batchelder intercepted an Elks’ pass, Pacheco lit up the visitor’s side of the scoreboard for a 7-10 early second quarter deficit and punted during its first-half possessions.
The Elks added four touchdowns, a fumble, and another TD in the second half while the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs, were intercepted, punted, turned the ball over on downs, fumbled, and ran out of time to end the game.
Morenci’s 2017 regular season resulted in wins of 21-7 over the Tonopah Valley Phoenix (Aug. 25), 32-26 over the Benson Bobcats (Sept. 1), 47-13 over the Willcox Cowboys (Sept. 8), 65-6 over the San Carlos Braves (Sept. 29), 69-14 over the Tombstone Yellow Jackets (Oct. 13), 45-0 over the Miami Vandals (Oct. 20), and 14-0 over the Pima Roughriders (Oct. 27). The losses were 36-6 to the Thatcher Eagles (Sept. 15), 47-12 to the Saint Johns Redskins (Sept. 22), and 44-0 to the Round Valley Elks (Oct. 6).
Morenci in post-season
Morenci has a 6-11 record for 11 post-seasons since 2001 with a 21-30 (358-503) average score per game or a 9-point deficit. The Wildcats have advanced to the quarterfinals four times and both the semifinals and final once.
The Wildcats met the Arizona Lutheran Coyotes for a third time in the state playoffs during the 21st century and are 3-0, prevailing 35-21 as No. 11 versus No. 6 during 2011 first round in Phoenix, 54-21 as No. 2 vs. No. 7 at Gilbert Higley during 2012 quarterfinals, and 27-17 as No. 8 vs. No. 9 during 2017 first round in Morenci Nov. 4.
Round Valley topped the Wildcats twice, 27-13 during the 2015 first round and 45-7 during the 2017 quarterfinals Nov. 10, both in Eagar.
The Top 4 ranked 2A football teams advanced to the semifinal round at Fountain Hills, 16100 East Palisades Boulevard, Saturday, Nov. 18. East Region runner-up Thatcher (11-1 overall, 5-1 region, 13.3723 rating for No. 3) meet the Metro West champion Phoenix Christian Cougars (12-0, 6-0, 16.1991 for No. 2) at 2 p.m. followed by East champion Round Valley (12-0, 6-0, 18.5378 for No. 1) versus the South champion Eloy Santa Cruz Valley Dust Devils (11-0, 5-0, 10.8347 for No. 4) at 6:30 p.m.
Each of the semifinalists advanced with home wins during the Nov. 10 quarterfinals, Santa Cruz 47-12 over the Metro West No. 3 Scottsdale Christian Eagles (10-3, 4-2, 7.6457 for No. 5), Thatcher 55-14 over East No. 3 St. Johns (8-4, 4-2, 6.9695 for No. 6), Phoenix Christian 59-15 over the Metro West No. 5 Tempe Prep Knights (7-5, 3-3, for No. 10), and Round Valley 45-7 over East Region No. 4 Morenci (8-4 overall, 3-3, 5.6287 for No. 8).
In the first round a week earlier, it was Santa Cruz 61-26 over East No. 5 Pima (5-6, 2-4, 1.2113 for No. 13), Scottsdale Christian 35-6 over the North champion Whiteriver Alchesay Falcons (8-3, 6-0, 4.3538 for No. 12), Thatcher 62-6 over South runner-up Willcox (5-6, 3-2, 9.4725 for No. 14), St. Johns 36-14 over the Metro East champion Queen Creek San Tan Foothills Sabercats (8-3, 6-0, 4.3538 for No. 11), Phoenix Christian 42-8 over the South No. 3 Bisbee Pumas (7-4, 3-2, minus 0.1277 for No. 15), Tempe Prep 44-37 over the Metro West No. 4 Gilbert Christian Knights (7-4, 3-3, 6.9695 for No. 7), Round Valley 62-0 over the Central champion Kingman Academy Tigers (7-4, , minus 1.1258 for No. 16), and Morenci 27-17 over Metro West runner-up Arizona Lutheran (7-3, 4-2, 5.3251 for No. 9).
During the most recent 10 seasons of the Top 16 Class 2A (2007-09, 2016) and Division V (2010-15) playoffs combined, the higher seeds have an overall winning percentage of .740 (111-39), with .750 (60-20) in the first round, .775 (31-9) in the quarterfinals, .600 (15-5) in the semifinals, and .500 (5-5) in the championship. The No. 1-4 teams are .720 (82-32), with No. 4 being .615 (16-10), No. 3 .704 (19-8), No. 2 .781 (25-7), and No. 1 .800 (28-7).
In the same span, the top four teams are 16-10 during the final two rounds, with No. 4 at .400 (2-3), No.3 at .333 (2-4), No. 2 at .857 (6-1), and No. 1 at .750 (6-2) in the semifinals plus 8-9 for the championship.
During the finals, No. 4 is 0-2, Arizona Lutheran faltered 20-21 in overtime to No. 10 Saint Johns during 2007 and Round Valley fell 35-63 to No. 3 Yuma Catholic during 2013; No. 3 is 2-0, also reaching the final in 2016, Thatcher topped No. 1 Round Valley 33-28; No. 2 is 3-3, Yuma Catholic fell 27-30 to No. 1 Phoenix Christian in 2010, Morenci fell 7-21 to Phoenix Northwest Christian in 2012, and Tempe Prep fell 27-39 to No. 1 Yuma Catholic in 2014 plus St. Johns defeated No. 1 Phoenix Christian 42-17 in 2008, Yuma Catholic edged No. No. 1 Northwest Christian 21-19 in 2011, and Glendale Joy Christian downed No. 1 Benson 27-7 in 2015; and No. 1 is 3-4, losing in 2008, 2011, 2015, and 2016 plus Northwest Christian over No. 2 Yuma Catholic 30-27 in 2010.
Santa Cruz is 3-2 overall, 0-1 in the semifinals, has not reached the finals, and a 46-20 (230-102) average score per game or 26-point margin; Thatcher 12-8, 1-3, 1-1, and a 38-25 (634-495) average score per game or 13-point margin; Phoenix Christian 4-4, 1-0, 0-1, and a 31-18 (498-280) average score per game or 13-point margin; and Round Valley 9-7, 2-0, 1-1, and a 46-20 (230-102) average score per game or 26-point margin during the same 10-year span.
This season, the top seeds are 11-1, 7-1 in the first round and 4-0 in the second round. Santa Cruz averaged a 54-17 (108-38) score per game or 37-point margin, Thatcher a 59-8 (117-16) average score per game or 51-point margin, Phoenix Christian a 52-12 (101-23) average score per game or 40-point margin; and Round Valley a 54-8 (107-7) average score per game or 48-point margin.
The average score per game during the regular season was 53-7 (481-64) or a 46-point margin for Santa Cruz, 44-13 (436-125) or a 31-point margin for Thatcher, 57-7 (571-65) or a 50-point margin for Phoenix Christian, and 40-8 (398-78) or a 32-point margin for Round Valley.
Recent pairings resulted in a 20-6 Round Valley win over Thatcher Oct. 13 plus Thatcher wins during the 2016 post-season, topping Phoenix Christian 52-6 for the quarterfinals, Santa Cruz 27-26 in overtime for the semifinals, and Round Valley 33-28 for the final.