The Yuma Catholic football team was storming down the field in the Shamrocks’ final drive of the game against No. 4 Thatcher on Thursday night.
But in the final play of the game for the Shamrock offense, Thatcher safety Heath Motes stepped in front of a Jagan Cleary pass near the end zone for an interception to secure a 20-14 win for the Eagles and give Yuma Catholic its first loss to any team other than Northwest Christian since a 2009 semifinal defeat to Willcox.
It was the third interception of the game for Cleary, who finished 14 for 39 with 153 yards and a touchdown but didn’t get much help from his receivers dropping several passes.
“Yuma Catholic defended themselves. We had like eight or nine drops,” Yuma Catholic coach Rhett Stallworth said. “We defended ourselves, bottom line. We beat ourselves. Thatcher made a trip down here and they came down here and were ready to play.”
“They dropped a lot of balls,” said Thatcher coach Dave Jefferies, who played for Cibola in the early 1990s – and faced Stallworth when he was at Yuma High. “We watched tape of them before and they caught everything. I mean, they caught everything that came to them and this just wasn’t their night and that helped us.”
The No. 1 Shamrocks (1-1) got the ball back on their own 25-yard line with about two minutes left in the game and appeared to finally get something going. Cleary completed three straight passes and junior running back Seth McKinney had a 19-yard and 16-yard rush to give Yuma Catholic a first down on the Thatcher 13-yard line with 52 seconds left.
However, Cleary’s swing pass to McKinney resulted in a 1-yard gain and the Shamrocks were forced to spike the ball on second down. Thatcher defensive lineman Brandon Jorgensen came up with a key third down sack before Cleary’s final pass of the game was intercepted.
“Our kids stepped up their game and held on for dear life,” Jefferies said. “It was a big win for me to come back to my hometown and coach against a guy who I played against in high school. It was a great atmosphere out here tonight.”
In the previous drive for Thatcher, the Eagles (2-0) faced a crucial fourth-and-inches on the Shamrock 46 with just less than six minutes left and Jefferies decided to go for it. Motes, the Thatcher quarterback, plowed up the middle for a first down that allowed the Eagles to burn a few more minutes off the clock.
“I don’t know how many fourth downs they converted, but it had to be a lot of them,” Stallworth said. “Fourth down, those are a matter of pride. You know what’s going to happen – a quarterback sneak. It’s not going to be a trick play.”
The Shamrocks had trouble all night with Motes, who rushed 21 times for 108 yards – mostly off of zone-reads.
“Those things come down to assignment football,” Stallworth said. “Somebody’s got to hit the quarterback and we didn’t do that. We would over pursue and the kid’s athletic and go out the back door and we didn’t tackle well.”
Junior running back Carter Rodriguez, who rushed for 125 yards, scored both touchdowns for the Shamrocks – one on a pass from Cleary into the flat that he took 67 yards and the other on a 41-yard run in the second quarter.
According to Stallworth, the loss could be a wake-up call for the Shamrocks, who had a rough week of practice leading up to the game against Thatcher.
“It was the second week in a row that we got beat up,” he said. “We’re not a physical team at this point and it’s going to be a long season if we don’t get any better.”