Pima, Thatcher and Morenci ready for quarterfinal football

Thatcher runs on the field at home earlier this season. (Stan Bonifacio Photo)

The Gila Valley will have three football teams competing in the football quarterfinals on Thursday night. Pima, Thatcher and Morenci all won their opening round games last week to advance.

#1 Pima (11-0) vs #8 Tonopah Valley (9-2)

Pima head coach Josh Wilkins said last week that they were going to rely heavily on running back Jeremiah Martinez and he did just that. Martinez rushed for 164 yards and had 6 total touchdowns in the ‘Riders 56-6 win over Holbrook in the opening round. Freshman quarterback Cedrick Grimes completed 7 passes for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first start.

They’ll face off with a Tonopah Valley team that throws the ball all over the field. Sophomore quarterback Malachi Wilt threw for 332 yards on 25 completions in their 35-14 win over Phoenix Christian last week. Nine of those completions went to senior Ethan McManaman for 147 yards.

If Pima can control the line of scrimmage and disrupt Wilt in the backfield, the Roughriders should be able to slow down the high-speed offense of Tonopah Valley. If not, the young defensive backfield will have to deal with the speed of the Phoenix’ wide receivers all night.

Pima’s power rushing offense is the best in the state and will still be the key to a win this week for Pima.

#2 Valley Christian (10-1) vs #7 Thatcher (7-4)

It’s not often you get a chance at revenge after losing to a team in the regular season. But that is exactly what Thatcher has this week. The Eagles dropped a controversial game to VC in week 2 15-14. Thatcher had the ball inside the 1-yard line with 5 seconds to play and on their 4th down quarterback sneak were ruled down short of the goal line to end the game.

The Eagle offense put up 408 total yards in their 35-14 win over Florence last week. Quarterback Brett Jones threw for 143 yards and 2 scores in his return to the lineup. Running back Christian Carter had 117 yards rushing with 2 touchdowns and 95 yards receiving and a touchdown in the win.

Valley Christian need a last second 32 yard field goal to beat #15 ALA-Ironwood 24-21 last week. VC quarterback Gunnar Link threw for 303 yards and 2 scores in the win.

These two teams have a pretty extensive postseason history between them. This will be the sixth playoff meeting between the two since 1997 and the 7th overall meeting. Thatcher has the 4-2 lead in the overall series.

The key to a Thatcher win is the same it has been all year. If Thatcher can hang on to the ball on offense and limit the passing game of the Trojans on defense, they will be in it at the end.

KATO 1230 AM will broadcast this game and you can hear it online at GilaValleyCentral as well.

#3 Paradise Honors (9-2) vs #6 Morenci (8-3)

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it should be the mantra of the Morenci Wildcats this season. They once again used the legs of running back Mikey Casillas as he rushed for 103 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns in the ‘Cats 35-7 opening round win over Benjamin Franklin. It is Casillas’ 10th 100-yard rushing game this season.

For Paradise Honors, it’s quite the opposite. Senior quarterback Gage Baker has thrown for 4,494 yards and 70 touchdowns this season. His 70 touchdowns are a new state record for passing touchdowns in a season at all levels. His season passing yards are the 5th best season total ever.

Morenci’s defense has been solid this year, but they haven’t seen the passing onslaught that Paradise Honors will bring Thursday night. The key to keeping Baker off the field is long drives on offense for Morenci, which they have shown they can do this season.