By Raymundo Frasquillo
Only one team ends the season with a win, and that’s usually for the state championship. Some Greenlee County gridders finished their 2017 campaign with a win, but will not be taking part in the post-season.
Duncan topped Saint David 66-20 on Packer Field Oct. 14. The Wildkats led 14-8 following the opening period, 30-8 at halftime, and 46-8 after three periods. It was No. 21 at No. 20 of 23 1A teams, a region contest, homecoming, and neither team were playoff bound.
The Wildkats are 11-4 for homecoming games and 3-0 with Saint David as the opponent during 15 seasons (2003-17) of playing in the 8-man format. The other homecoming game wins over the Tigers were 42-20 in 2003 and 36-6 in 2006. Duncan is 59-57 overall, 37-31 in the region, and 31-27 at Packer Field in its 8-man era. However, the Tigers have a 33-28 (300-250) average score per game or 5-point margin during nine pairings.
“That’s got to feel good,” ninth-year Duncan head coach Eldon Merrell said to his players after the game at midfield. “You scored over a hundred (110) points in the last two games and only gave up one touchdown on defense. The other two were on special teams.”
Duncan scored first, using 4:14 to march 69 yards in eight plays. Junior Wesley Conyer scored the first of seven touchdowns plus the first of three conversion runs, crossing the goal line from 33 yards out with 6:29 left in the opening period.
Saint David touched the ball, going 83 yards on the kickoff return and carried the ball for extra points to tie 13 seconds later. Sophomore Leon Lohrey scampered 83 yards down the left sideline for the TD and senior Christian McGrath added the conversion run.
Duncan gained 17 of 96 yards, lost five yards on a penalty, and was intercepted on 3rd-and-15, but scored 38 unanswered points following a blocked Saint David field goal attempt, to lead 46-8 with 3:19 left in the third period.
The Wildkats scored on five consecutive possessions while Saint David gained 36 of 62 yards in nine plays and threw an interception on 4th-and-7, lost two yards in four plays and had a 4th-and-24 punt blocked, gained 13 of 66 yards and was intercepted on 2nd-and-10, gained 54 of 68 yards and turned the ball over on downs, and punted on 4th-and-12 during its next five possessions.
“We found some energy,” Merrell said.
Duncan drove 80 yards in four plays using 2:10 to go ahead to stay. Conyer ran in from 67 yards out with 25 seconds left in the first period and from 11 yards out with 3:12 left in the second period. His conversion run punctuated the 74-yard drive in 10 plays using 3:53.
Sophomore Lucas Basteen ran in from 16 yards out with 27 seconds left in the first half, capping a 23-yard drive in two plays using 25 seconds.
Conyer opened the second half scoring by capping a 75-yard drive on a 65-yard run with 1:27 elapsed. The 3-play drive used 2:10 and Basteen added the conversion run. Sophomore Christopher Smith took a Conyer pass for an 81-yard TD. Basteen added the conversion run as the 3-play, 86-yard drive used 1:28.
Twenty points were scored in a 31-second span.
Saint David got the ball with 35 seconds elapsed in the final period, marched 75 yards in eight plays using 3:29 to score its only offensive TD. Senior quarterback Dawson Meador ran in from 13 yards out and was sacked on the conversion run. Duncan led 46-14 with 8:56 left.
Conyer ran 65 yards on first down 12 seconds later and the conversion pass attempt fell incomplete. The Wildkats led 52-14 with 8:44 left.
Lohrey returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards and a conversion pass attempt also fell incomplete. Duncan led 52-20 with 8:25 left.
The Wildkats added the final two TDs, Conyer on a 40-yard run with freshman Jason McGrath providing the conversion run and sophomore Cesar Contreras on a 1-yard run with the conversion run attempt being stopped.
Conyer capped a 50-yard drive in three plays using 1:21 while Contreras gained the 30 yards in four plays using 1:12.
Saint David 29 of 97 yards but was intercepted a second time by sophomore Steven Pierpont on second down, and an errant lateral on the Tigers’ kickoff return was handled by freshman Tommy Hille on the 39 with 2:06 remaining. The Wildkats gained a first down, took a delay of game penalty and the clock wound down.
Prior to kick-off, the Wildkats (2-6 overall, 2-2 South Region, minus 6.4964 rating for No. 18) averaged a 17-48 (122-339) score per game or a 31-point deficit while the Tigers (1-7, 1-3, minus 10.0506 for No. 21) had a 41-point deficit or 16-57 (115-397) average score per game.
The lone win for each team was over 0-8 Sells Baboquivari, 61-12 by Saint David (Sept. 15) and 44-0 by Duncan (Oct. 6).
Saint David’s losses were 80-14 to Mayer (Aug. 25), 58-2 to 4-4 Phoenix Valley Lutheran (Sept. 1), 52-20 to 5-3 Kearny Ray (Sept. 8), 66-12 to 4-4 Salome (Sept. 22), 69-0 to 7-1 Goodyear Trivium Prep (Sept. 29), and 60-6 to 5-3 Elfrida Valley Union (Oct. 6).
Duncan’s losses were 38-8 to 5-3 Winkelman Hayden (Aug. 18), 66-20 to 1-7 Phoenix NFL Yet College Prep (Aug. 25), 60-6 to 7-1 Superior (Sept. 1), 53-0 to Trivium Prep (Sept. 8), 58-12 to Valley Union (Sept. 22), and 64-32 to 6-2 Fort Thomas (Sept. 29).
The Wildkats walked off Packer Field for the last time this season, sporting ear-to-ear smiles and leaving with more experience than they started with in August.
Duncan averaged 6.3 (330-2,090) rushing yards and 18.3 (29-546) aerial yards on 29-75 passes with nine interceptions through eight games. The Wildkats also totaled 29 touchdowns, 20 rushing and nine aerial.
Three adult coaches believed in the Wildkats for the entire season and the minors wound up believing in themselves and each other. Only two seniors were in uniform for the season finale.
Seniors Matthew Basteen and Talbot Wearne opened up huge gaps to allow backs some running room.
In the locker room, several players said they couldn’t wait for the 2018 season to begin. An assistant coach said he may not be back because of a contract re-negotiation. Wesley Conyer told Coach Merrell he wasn’t coming back, and then said he would return before going through the door.
The Wildkats inventoried equipment as 12 other teams, five of them on Duncan’s just completed schedule, prepared for the post-season. The East Region sent four representatives to the state playoffs, the South and West three apiece, and the South two.
The state playoff first-round advancements were the No. 9 Winkelman Hayden Lobos (6-3 seeding, 3.7777 rating, 2-2 for East Region No. 3) over the Fort Thomas Apaches (6-3, 4.3948, 2-2 for East Region No. 2) 30-20, the No. 12 Salome Frogs (5-4, 1.3681, 3-2 for West Region No. 3) over the No. 5 Mayer Wildcats (8-1, 7.8067, 4-1 for West Region No. 2) 72-42, the No. 6 Goodyear Trivium Prep (8-1, 7.7219, 4-0 for South Region No. 1) over the No. 11 Joseph City Wildcats (5-3, 1.6754, 3-2 for North Region No. 3) 28-26, and the No. 7 Kearny Ray Bearcats (6-3, 4.6204, 2-2 for East Region No. 4) over the No. 10 Valley Union (5-3, .1174, 3-1 for South Region No. 2) 50-0 Oct. 20.
The op ranked Heber Mogollon Mustangs (7-0, 16.9390, 4-0 for North Region No. 1) welcome Hayden, the No. 4 Williams Vikings (6-2, 8.6536, 4-1 for North Region No. 1) Salome, the No. 3 Superior Panthers (7-1, 12.1911, 4-9 for East Region No. 1) Trivium Prep, and the No. 2 Bagdad Sultans (9-0, 15.1856, 5-0 for West Region No. 1) Ray for the quarterfinals Saturday, Oct. 28.
The semifinals are at 2:39 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the Maricopa High campus Saturday, Nov. 4. The championship game kicks-off at 6:30 p.m., also on the Maricopa campus Saturday, Nov. 11.