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Shamrocks face giant No. 4 Scottsdale Christian in quarterfinals
For the past six weeks, the Yuma Catholic football team has essentially had a win secured by the end of the first quarter.
That cruise control is coming off when they face Scottsdale Christian in a Arizona Interscholastic Association Division V Quarterfinal at 3 p.m. today at Williams Field High School in Gilbert.
And boy, are the No. 4 Eagles big.
“Sometimes football comes down to matchups and you just have to match up with teams and this is one of those games where it's difficult for us to match up,” Yuma Catholic coach Rhett Stallworth said. “They have a lot of skill kids and a huge line to back them up.”
Scottsdale Christian, which beat No. 13 Pinon 55-0 in the first round, feature a mammoth offensive line — including 6-foot-7, 280-pound senior Bryan Stephens and 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior Christian Cook.
“It's going to be a lot different than the last five weeks,” Shamrocks senior left guard Glen Justice said. “The last five weeks we've had one-sided games and this game is going to be tough and they're going to be a lot bigger than us.”
Other Shamrocks see the size mismatch as nothing new.
“We're always the smallest team out there, so it's not going to really change that much,” said Shamrock senior running back Kody Hazlett, who has rushed for 2,123 yards and 26 touchdowns on the season.
The Eagles (10-1) have already proved they can play with — and beat — the best teams in the state. In the fifth week of the season, they won 28-21 at Tempe Prep, which entered the state playoffs as the No. 3 seed. The Eagles led 14-3 going into the fourth quarter against No. 1 Northwest Christian and were ahead with 1:20 left in the clock, needing only to run out the clock. But the Crusaders forced a fumble, recovered and scored with 25 seconds left to steal a 18-14 victory from Scottsdale Christian.
“These guys are the real deal. They can beat us at any time,” Stallworth said. “Northwest is probably the toughest team we played. (But Scottsdale Christian) may be the toughest team we play.”
In order to advance, Yuma Catholic (10-1) will have to stop the Eagles' balanced spread offensive attack. Junior running back Zechariah Gatling has a team-high 574 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The Eagles have a senior quarterback in Luke O'Neill, who has thrown for 1,444 yards and 21 touchdowns — not to mention 424 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. O'Neill has plenty of receivers to choose from, including 6-foot-3 senior Sam Fillingame (31 receptions, 487 yards, 8 touchdowns), Chaz Dudley (26, 500, 9) and Alex Kaites (19, 266, 5).
“It's not take this guy and that guy out of the equation and you're OK. (With Scottsdale) if you take those two out of the equation, you have four or five others,” Stallworth said. “And when a team is good at spreading the wealth it's hard to exploit that one thing and that's the issue.”
The Eagles provide the Shamrocks a tough look for the first time since they won 37-24 at Buckeye on Sept. 21. Since then, the defending Division V have rolled through six comfortable victories but the Eagles' are going to provide an atmosphere that is anything but comfortable and the mental adjustment for the Shamrocks to prepare for a dogfight again has been challenging.
“It's absolutely difficult. Ask them how difficult it was for them on (Tuesday), we spent half the practice just running them because they weren't living up to their potential,” Stallworth said. “You have to get back up to the game speed we're going to see and the pressure and physicalness of the game.”
Meeting in a quarterfinal is nothing new for the Shamrocks and Eagles. Yuma Catholic beat Scottsdale Christian 42-10 in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. However, those two teams are drastically different now and with a trip to face the winner between No. 1 Northwest Christian and No. 9 St. Johns on the line, Stallworth is hoping to escape with a win over the gigantic Eagles.
“These are two teams that could be playing in the finals,” Stallworth said. “Instead, they're playing in the quarterfinals.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.