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Shamrocks open playoffs against No. 12 Willcox
The last time the Yuma Catholic football team faced Willcox was in a 2009 state semifinal.
The No. 9 Cowboys snuck away with a 21-13 win over the No. 5 Shamrocks to advance to the Arizona Interscholastic Association 2A state championship.
Since their last meeting, the Shamrocks advanced to the state final in 2010 and beat Northwest Christian to win the Division V title in 2011.
Now the Cowboys and Shamrocks meet once again, this time in the first round of the AIA Division V state playoffs at 7 p.m. tonight at Ricky Gwynn Field.
Yuma Catholic's seed this season? No. 5.
“The AIA has their own system, but when it comes down to it, it's just a number,” senior linebacker/running back Andy Determan said. “You have to beat people whether it's the first round, second round, third round or championship. You have to win four games.”
In the final week of the season, Tempe Prep upset No. 1 Northwest Christian 21-20 at home.
And with that, the reigning state champion Yuma Catholic Shamrocks' road to a repeat got that much harder. When the brackets were announced, Tempe Prep (8-2) jumped to No. 3 and dropped the Shamrocks down to No. 5. That set up the matchup against No. 12 Willcox, which Yuma Catholic coach Rhett Stallworth feels is one of the better lower seeded teams in the tournament — if not the best.
The Cowboys (7-3) have yet to beat a team with a winning record, but their three losses on the season were against top-level teams. They lost 22-0 at No. 11 Benson, 27-13 at No. 6 Thatcher and 28-6 to No. 2 Morenci. In the game against Morenci, Willcox went into halftime with the score tied 6-6.
“If Morenci is the No. 2 team in the state and Willcox had them 6-6 at halftime, that tells you how good they are,” Stallworth said of the Cowboys, who he said is a run-oriented team. “They're a formidable team.”
The Shamrocks will be short-handed against the Cowboys — Stallworth said sophomore middle linebacker Moisis Barcenas (shoulder) won't be playing. Barcenas has a team-high 100 tackles to go along with two interceptions.
For most of the season, the Shamrocks (9-1) were ranked No. 2 in the Arizona Championship Series media and computer poll behind Northwest Christian. In the grueling first half of its schedule, Yuma Catholic had wins over top Division IV schools like No. 5 Estrella Foothills, No. 9 River Valley and at No. 10 Buckeye.
“We start the season losing to the No. 1 team by two points and we come into the tournament ranked fifth. It blows my mind,” Stallworth said of the Shamrocks' 16-14 loss to Northwest Christian to start the year. “But it's a new season and it's an exciting time for us.”
Regardless of the fact that the Shamrocks are the reigning kings of Division V football, they don't feel like they are the ones coming into the 2012 state tournament sitting on the throne.
“We still have something to prove. I still think we can win it even though we got knocked down a couple notches,” senior offensive lineman Glen Justice said. “If we're going to get to the state championship, we're going to have to beat everybody anyway.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.