Yuma Catholic tops Thatcher for spot in 2A championship game

November 20, 2010 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

When Yuma Catholic had to make a play Saturday afternoon  the Shamrocks came up aces in their bid to beat Thatcher and reach the 2A state championship football game.

Special teams were as critical as any facet helping Yuma Catholic score two touchdowns in a 2 1/2 minute span of the third period and that propeled the Shamrocks to a harrowing 22-20 win over the Eages at North Canyon High School.

Yuma Catholic (12-1) is the first school from Yuma to reach a football championship game since Yuma High did it in 1965. No Yuma school has ever won a football championship outright  at any level. Yuma High shared a title in 1959. The Shamrocks face Northwest Christian, a 42-13 winner over St. Johns, on  Nov. 27 at NAU's Walkup Skydome at 1 p.m. Northwest Christian dealt Yuma Catholic its only defeat in October.

"We needed some little things to go our way," Yuma Catholic coach Rhett Stallworth said. "We came in here pretty banged up and tried to patch things together as best we could. We had a fake punt, an onside kick, a two-point conversion. All of them went our way.  We had to dig deep."

Thatcher (7-6) didn't disguise what it was trying to do. The Eagles pounded away all afternoon at Yuma Cathoilc with running backs Tyler Bryce and Brandon Bryce. The Bryce duo combined for most of the Eagles 232 rushing yards with Tyler Bryce amassing 162 of them on 29 carries. The Eagles had a 7-0 lead late in the second period and were headed for the ende zone again with two minutes left when Brandon Bryce fumbled and Yuma Catholic recovered at the Shamrocks 16.

With only 35 yards of offense to that point, Yuma Catholic marched 84 yards, getting more than half of it and the tying touchdown on a 54-yard bomb from quarterback Tommy Pistone to wide out Mathew Koppinger  with 36 seconds left in the half.

Thatcher opened the second half with the ball at its own 20 and jammed it down the Shamrocks throat, marching 80 yards in 13 plays and takiing nearly six minutes off the clock. Brandon Bryce's 1-yard run made it 14-7 with 6:10 left in the period.

Enter special teams' magic for Yuma Catholic. The Shamrocks Andrew Determan fielded the ensuing kickoff at his 15 and found a seam on the right side, broke through and outraced the coverage for an 85-yard scoring return to tie the game with 5:56 left in the third.

Asking for more from his special teams, Stallworth ordered an onside kick and the Shamrocks recovered at the Thatcher 49. Seven plays later Julian Higuera scored from 1 yard out to put Yuma Catholic ahead for the first time and to stay, 20-14. Stallworth then went for two with Koppinger taking the snap as a holder. He rolled left and threw back to the right finding Jacob Montchal for the two points. Montchal showed great concentration catching the ball after it tipped off the hands of Thatcher defender Derek Aaron to improve the margin to 22-14.

Thatcher came right back with another 80-yard drive capped off by Tyler Bryce's 8-yard run with 8:52 left in the game. Thatcher opted to go for two and tie the game, but the Eagles run attempt  fell a yard short.

Thatcher threatened one more time, crossing midfield with just less than four minutes to play.  That's when Shamrocks lineman Sean Peters stripped Tyler Bryce trying to cutback and Koppinger recovered the fumble. Thatcher got one more possession but couldn't  get a first down. Yuma Catholic ran out the final 1:12

"I got good opportunities," Koppinger said. "When I saw the ball come out late I just pounced on it. We had a big swing in the third quarter and a big play before the half. Those were big."