Gila Valley football teams continue winning streak

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: The Thatcher Eagles will travel to Morenci on Friday for a matchup between two unbeaten Gila Valley teams.

THATCHER – For the second week in a row, the high school football teams in the Gila Valley garnered impressive wins.

Thatcher 56 Benson 0

After completing a shutout last week, the Thatcher Eagles (2-0) continued its modus operandi and opened its home season with a blowout win over the visiting Benson Bobcats (0-1).

“We played very good tonight,” head coach Sean Hinton said. “Things went our way, and the kids played hard. We were able to put a couple on them early and keep it up.”

The Eagles ran the ball down the gut of the Bobcats and opened up the night’s scoring with three rushing touchdowns from Kaleb Mattice to go up 22-0 in the second quarter. Mattice went down with a knee injury before halftime and did not return to the game.

Head coach Sean Hinton said Mattice would be evaluated Saturday and the extent of the injury was not yet known.

After a 48-yard touchdown pass from Jake Dunlap to Nate Lee, the Eagles went into halftime up 30-0.

The running clock went into effect with a little less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter after Dunlap plunged into the end zone from a yard out to make the score 43-0.

Thatcher then substituted its starters but didn’t miss a beat. The final score came on a thrilling run by backup quarterback Javan Montoya, in which he zigged and zagged through defenders on his way to a 54-yard rushing touchdown.

Thatcher will take a short trip down the road to battle with the Safford Bulldogs (2-0) next week.

“Safford is tough,” Hinton said. “We’ll have a battle on our hands next week for sure.”

Safford 42 Sahuarita 18

Safford avenged its previous loss two years ago to Sahuarita (0-1) and was victorious on the road for the second week in a row.

The Safford Bulldogs (2-0) ran all over the Sahuarita Mustangs and finished with 389 yards on the ground, led by 195 yards by quarterback Manuel Aparicio and Riley Despain with 94 yards.

“I’m proud of the way we played,” head coach Mike Alba said. “We were real sloppy in the first half; we had three offensive turnovers. And then we just fought back in the second half and played great football. We finally played our game we know we are capable of doing.”

Safford opened up the scoring on a 19-yard rushing touchdown by E.J. Estrada, but Sahuarita came right back with two scores of its own to lead 12-7 early on in the second quarter. It would be the last lead of the night for the Mustangs.

Estrada scored his second touchdown of the night and Aparicio added a rushing touchdown as well to put the Bulldogs up 21-12 at halftime.

Safford opened up the scoring in the third quarter when Aparicio connected with Cameron Abril for a 14-yard touchdown.

Estrada then put the game out of reach with his third rushing touchdown of the night, taking it 11 yards to the house to increase Safford’s lead to 35-12.

Quarterback Payson Harsh finished the Bulldogs’ scoring with a 3-yard plunge into the end zone. A passing touchdown for the Mustangs was far too late to matter, and Safford left the field victorious.

“We’re very proud of our boys and how they played,” Alba said.

Safford will host Thatcher (2-0) next week for bragging rights in its annual rivalry game.

“It (should) be a good football game,” Alba said. “We know they are very good this year, so we’re just excited for the opportunity to play again in our first home game.”

Pima 48 Gilbert Christian 24

The Pima Roughriders (2-0) continued its unbeaten streak on the road at the Gilbert Christian Knights (0-1) and doubled up its opponent with a big fourth quarter. The last time the Roughriders lost a football game was in the 2014 playoffs against Mogollon.

Head coach Jace Hancock was pleased with his team’s progression from its opening win last week.

“I thought we executed a lot better tonight,” he said.

Quarterback Josh Whitaker led the way with six touchdowns on 221 yards passing, all with a broken left arm.

Whitaker suffered a hairline fracture to his left, non-throwing arm, in Pima’s opening win at Miami and has a cast on it.

“Playing with a cast on one hand, I was really skeptical, but he made me into a believer,” Hancock said. “I was ready to put my backup quarterback in, but he (Whitaker) played a heck of a game.”

Jarrett Kartchner and Bradyn Brown each caught three touchdowns on the night. Kartchner had five catches for 89 yards and Brown finished with three catches for 97 yards.

The game was tight early on, but Pima opened it up in the second quarter and took a 27-14 lead into halftime.

However, the Knights dominated the third quarter, as Pima couldn’t get anything going and cut the Roughriders’ lead to just 27-24 early in the fourth quarter.

The emergence of the Knights lit a fire under the Roughriders as it scored three touchdowns in three minutes after recovering two squib kicks to put the game away, 48-24. After scoring for the first time in the fourth, Pima went to squib kickoffs to keep the ball out of Gilbert Christian’s returner’s hands, who took a kickoff back in the first quarter 82 yards for a touchdown.

“We weren’t trying to onside, we were just trying to find a seam and kick the ball hard,” Hancock said. “It’s just one of those breaks.”

Pima will open its home schedule next week with a game at Ed Hubbard Field against Bisbee (0-1), which fell to Douglas (1-0), 20-14.