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Yuma Catholic wears out Estrella Foothills
Midway though the second quarter, Yuma Catholic sophomore quarterback Jagan Cleary had thrown as many interceptions as he had completions.
Then he caught fire.
The sophomore threw two touchdown passes within 20 seconds of each other and the Shamrocks wore out an athletic Estrella Foothills 35-21 at Ricky Gwynn Stadium on Friday.
Shamrock senior running back Kody Hazlett rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns while Cleary finished the night 12 for 17 with 160 yards and three touchdowns. However, things didn't start well for the sophomore quarterback. On the second Shamrock possession, Estrella Foothills sophomore defensive back Mason Benefield intercepted Cleary's pass on a fourth-and-7.
The Wolves responded by driving down the field and on a fourth-and-2, senior quarterback Gerrit Groenewold found his favorite target — 6-foot-3 senior receiver Steven Ludlow over the top in the left corner for a 24-yard touchdown.
“It was a matter of time. We were waiting for it. We wanted to bring our safeties over and not walk him over and give it away by alignment, so it was a little game of cat and mouse,” Yuma Catholic coach Rhett Stallworth said about the size mismatch Ludlow caused. By the end of the night, Ludlow had eight catches for 141 yards and three touchdowns.
On the first play of the following possession, Cleary underthrew sophomore Donovan Rooks for his second straight interception. Four plays later, on another fourth down for the Wolves, Groenewold once again tried to find Ludlow over the top along the left sideline, but Shamrock defensive backs Ricky Hampton and Kody Boyd deflected the pass.
Halfway through the second quarter and already with two interceptions, Cleary responded by connecting with sophomore tight end Matt Pistone in the left flat for nine yards. Senior running back Brandon Moreno followed by taking a counter 35 yards down to the Estrella Foothills' 24-yard line and Cleary connected with Hampton on the left side and the junior receiver cut his way past defenders for the touchdown to tie it.
“When Ricky is in the open field he's dangerous because he's cat-quick,” Stallworth said. “When you get him in the open field he's always a threat.”
Yuma Catholic kicker Marcos Perez's ensuing kickoff landed in the middle of the field on the 38-yard line and sophomore Aaron Pena jumped on it for the Shamrocks. On the first play of the drive, with his offensive line giving him plenty of time, Cleary connected with Rooks deep down the middle for a 38-yard touchdown to put the Shamrocks up for good.
“I was struggling early in the game, but Coach Stallworth talked to me and fixed my mistakes and told me to have a short-term memory,” Cleary said.
“Sometimes with a young quarterback it takes a while to get a feel for things and the other team. Obviously, we can't have it take that long every week,” Stallworth said.
The Shamrocks (2-1) opened up the third quarter with an onside kick that was recovered by senior tight end Colin Pancrazi and seven plays later scored on a 4-yard run by Hazlett and bumped the lead up to 28-7 early in the fourth on another touchdown pass from Cleary to Hampton. On a third-and-13, Cleary pump-faked a short pass to Hampton, who slipped behind the secondary and cut hard after the catch before running the rest of the way for the 57-yard touchdown.
“We have a sophomore quarterback so he's going to get better every week and people are going to do what they're going to do. They loaded up the box to take Kody (Hazlett) away from us so we were going to have to throw the ball,” Stallworth said.
After a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ludlow on Estrella Foothills' possession cut the Shamrocks lead to 28-14, Yuma Catholic came up with the back-breaker midway through the final quarter. Lining up to punt on a fourth-and-6, senior upback Andy Determan took a direct snap and muscled his way for a first down. Hazlett broke a tackle on the following play and scored on a 41-yard touchdown run, diving just inside the left pylon.
“We wore them down. That's a great ballclub with some great athletes but by the fourth quarter they were sucking wind,” Stallworth said. “I don't think we were more athletic than those guys. We just played hard-nosed.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson