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By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – The Thatcher Eagles’ mean green machine kept its perfect record in tact Friday night, dispatching the Snowflake Lobos (2-0 conference, 2-2 overall) and avenging last year’s disputed loss up north, 27-6.
The Eagles (2-0 conference, 4-0 overall) dominated early and often, scoring on their first two possessions while owning the offensive and defensive line of scrimmage. Thatcher would not punt until the fourth quarter.
“Our line are big boys; they move, they’re in shape and they are the heart and soul of our team pretty much,” Thatcher head coach Sean Hinton said.
The Lobos went three-and-out on their first possession and the Eagles got a great start with a short field at the Lobos’ 35-yard line when punter Cody Fox bobbled the snap and attempted to run for the first but was stopped just short. Thatcher capitalized on Snowflake’s mistake, banging the ball inside until Quinton Turley punched it into the end zone on a 2-yard dive. Quarterback Tyler Roebuck swung around the left side for the 2-point conversion and Thatcher took an early, first-quarter lead, 8-0.
Snowflake was set to go for it on fourth and one on its own 36-yard line but a false start changed the coach’s mind and the Lobos punted the ball away.
Thatcher had better luck on its fourth down play as it lined up for a punt but faked it with Javan Montoya, who scrambled his way to a first down and into Lobo territory at the 45-yard line. Two plays later, Riley Morris burst through the line and sprinted 45 yards for the touchdown. The 2-point try was no good, but Thatcher found itself up 14-0 with four minutes left in the opening quarter of play.
Thatcher’s defense held and Fox again bobbled a punt attempt but this time managed to just make it to a first down. The quarter ended with Snowflake moving the ball down the field against Thatcher, having success with a combination of outside runs and quick passes. The drive ended with a 2-yard dive into the end zone by Snowflake’s quarterback Traegon Standerfer with 9:01 left in the half. The extra point was no good, however, and Thatcher still led, 14-6. The teams would go into the break with that score after Roebuck’s pass was tipped and intercepted near the goal line by Jake Christensen.
“(It’s) my fault for throwing the ball in the red zone,” said Thatcher head coach Sean Hinton at halftime. “We’re doing a good job. The kids just gotta keep playing hard and doing what they do and I just gotta get out of the way.”(sic)
The Eagles did just that in the second half, using good clock management as they methodically made their way down the field running mostly between the tackle positions and limited the Lobos’ touches on offense.
Penalties had an effect on the game in the third quarter as a holding call on the Lobos negated a first down and they ended up punting. On the ensuing punt, Thatcher’s Trevin Clark took the kick 53 yards back to the house for 6. The Snowflake faithful cheered the presence of a yellow flag on the field during the return believing perhaps the play would be coming back on a block in the back, but the flag was for holding against the Lobos and the touchdown stood. The 2-point try was no good and Thatcher led 20-6 late in the third quarter.
With Snowflake driving late in the third and into the beginning of the fourth quarter, Thatcher’s defense bent but didn’t break, as the Lobos’ air attack put them just outside the red zone. The Eagles sacked Standerfer on fourth and seven to end the threat and take over on downs. The Lobos offensive would fare no better the rest of the game and was forced to punt on two other possessions in the half, and on fourth and 10 late in the game Turley came up with a big play and batted the ball down to give the ball back to Thatcher.
“Last week the offense kind of carried the defense, this week the defense and the boys carried me, so I appreciate them,” Hinton said.
The Eagles then moved the ball into Lobos territory with a big play action pass from Roebuck to Turley. The final nail in the coffin came with 1:45 left in the game as Morris ran through some arm tackles up the gut for a 20-yard TD. Morris was named Gila Valley Central’s Player of the Game and led the Eagles in rushing with 16 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
With less than a minute to play and down by 21, Standerfer through a bomb down the middle of the field the was intercepted by Kyle O’Donnell, and Thatcher left its dominant mark on Snowflake, winning 27-6.
Thatcher will travel up to Morenci (3-0 conference, 3-0 overall) on Friday for a battle of the Gila Valley unbeaten teams and bragging rights.