Football playoffs kickoff tonight

Pima gets ready for last year's 2A Championship game. (McKenna Merrell/GilaValleyCentral)

Tonight marks the first round of the state football playoffs for area teams. Pima, Thatcher, Safford, Morenci and Willcox all qualified for the playoffs. Below is a quick preview of each game.

#1 Pima (10-0) vs #16 Holbrook (7-3)

Pima enters tonight’s playoff game with Holbrook as the top seed after their 49-20 win over #4 Santa Cruz last week. That win moved them back to the #1 spot after losing that distinction 3 weeks ago. The ‘Riders are looking for their 2nd straight 2A State Championship.

The Roughriders will look to freshman quarterback Cedric Grimes this week, who gets his first start this season. Starter Rhett Hughes is still nursing a wrist injury and last week’s starter Jaxon John went out early with an ankle injury in their win over Santa Cruz. Grimes threw for nearly 150 yards and 3 scores in the win.

Pima Head Coach Josh Wilkins on this week’s game. “Sometimes I feel like a broken record but tonight comes down to our defensive front. When you start a Freshman at QB you have to control the line of scrimmage. We need to run the football; you should expect to see a heavy dose of Jeremiah Martinez.”

Holbrook lost their first 3 games of the season but are on a 7-game winning streak. They have only given up 18 points in their 7 wins.

Pima didn’t give up a point in their region schedule and are outscoring their opponents by an average score of 47-8 this season.

The game kicks off at 7pm at Edd Hubbard Field in Pima.

#3 Scottsdale Christian (8-2) vs #14 Willcox (6-4)

The Cowboys beat Tanque Verde 7-0 on October 6th to win their region and get the auto bid into the state playoffs. They won 6 of their last 7 games. Their lone loss was 30-28 to Bisbee.

Willcox Head Coach Eric Hjalmarson on his team’s game this week: “We have to play bully ball. We can’t turn the ball over and give them extra possessions. We have to do what we have done all year and be physical on both sides of the ball.”

Scottsdale Christian’s losses this year are to #1 Pima and 3A #2 Valley Chrisitan. The Eagles are led by Senior QB Jack Atkinson who has thrown for 2133 yards and 29 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions.

The game kicks off at 7pm at Scottsdale Christian High School.

#16 Safford (4-6) vs #1 Mohave (9-1)

The strength of the 3A South showed up when Safford got into the playoffs with a 4-6 record. All six of their losses have come to ranked teams, all of which made the playoffs. If you take out the Sabino loss, the Bulldogs other 5 losses came by an average of 7 points.

Safford is led offensively by JoJo Ruelas who threw for almost 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns. Monster Rios was the leading rusher with 643 yards and 5 scores.

Safford Head Coach Bob Park on his team’s game: “Defensively we have to stop their run and on offense when we get in the red zone we have to score.”

Mohave’s only loss came last week to Sabino. In that game their top receiver was ejected and will miss tonight’s game. The Thunderbirds are led by their Sophomore QB Joe Yoney. He’s thrown for nearly 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for another 1,000 yards and 16 scores.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm at the Anderson Auto Fieldhouse in Bullhead City.

#10 Florence (8-2) vs #7 Thatcher (6-4)

After a slow start the Thatcher Eagles hit their stride midseason before falling last week in the 3A South Championship to Morenci. Their 4 losses are all to teams ranked 9th or higher in the state playoffs. They’ve battled the injury bug a bit lately but will have QB/LB Brett Jones back in the lineup tonight.

Thatcher Head Coach Dan Jones on his team’s game: “We HAVE to hold onto the ball, control the line of scrimmage, play solid defense and play with passion.”

Florence has run for nearly 2,500 yards this season while throwing for just 1,000. The Gophers will look to get Malik Smith (800 yards, 11 TDs) and Josh Jackson (450 yards, 4 TDs) loose in space to use their athleticism.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm at John Mickelson Field at Eastern Arizona College and can be heard on KATO 1230AM, and see on the Thatcher Booster Club YouTube channel.

#11 Benjamin Franklin (7-3) vs #6 Morenci (7-3)

Morenci hasn’t missed a beat this season under 1st year coach Rishard Davis as the team moved into the 3A conference after back-to-back 2A runner-up finishes. There is no secret on what the Wildcats want to do and that is run the football. They are led on the ground by Mikey Casillas with 1,379 yards and 13 touchdowns. Casillas have moved into 13th place in career rushing yards with 5,475.

Morenci Head Coach Rishard Davis on his team’s game: “We have to be physical up front on both sides of the ball. We can’t let the ebb and flow of the game distract us and most importantly, run the ball.”

Benjamin Franklin has not given up more than 7 points in their seven wins this season. The Chargers are led on offense by running back Ridge Allen with 1,400 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

Both teams are built the same with a run first approach and solid defense.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm on The Hill in Morenci.