This time of year it’s hard to be overlooked as a No. 2 seed.
Then again coming from a small mining town of less than 1,500 people, it’s easy to how coach Frank Ogas Sr. and Morenci may have been considered an afterthought in the Division V state tournament.
Saturday that all changed as the undefeated Wildcats continued their dream season with a 10-7 semifinals victory over No. 3-seeded Tempe Prep at Arcadia.
The Wildcats, who haven’t won a state championship since beating Page in the Class A title back in 1976, will play Northwest Christian Friday at NAU’s Walkup Skydome.
“The game itself was tough as nails,” Frank Ogas Sr. said. “But when it was on the line, our kids understood what it took to win.
Without starting quarterback Emilio Duran, who left in the first half with a lower back injury, the Wildcats turned to seniors Frank Ogas Jr. and Clay Ruedas.
After a stalemate through the first 12 minutes of play, Morenci optioned for a bit of trickery to spark its offense. On a fourth-and-long situation midway through the second quarter, the Wildcats completed a successful fake field goal attempt when Ruedas – who started at quarterback in 2010 -- connected with receiver Robert Graggs for 16 yards down to the Tempe 4-yard line. Following Morenci’s largest play of the day from scrimmage, Ogas Jr. capped off the drive with a one-yard plunge up the middle.
“It’s amazing, because this town has wanted this for a long time,” said Ogas Jr. “It wasn’t just us out there on the field, every single person that came out to be here today was with us. It’s great to be where we are, but we aren’t done yet.”
Ogas Jr. finished with 61 yards on the ground to go along with his touchdown run. Ruedas, who entered Saturday’s game with one completion on the year, was 3-for-3 for 37 yards.
In the second half, kicker Steven Jackson extended the lead to 10 with a 35-yard field goal.
Tempe Prep began the fourth quarter at the Morenci 38-yard line – their best field position of the day – and moved the ball down the field setting up a 1st and goal at the 4-yard line. The Knights ran the ball four straight times. On third and fourth down, Morenci’s Ruben Leonard and R.J. Dalton were not fooled and stuffed the Knights.
The Knights looked dead in the water late in the game, but a pass interference penalty on Morenci with under two minutes remaining gave them new life. Senior quarterback Forest Redlin completed two passes for 53 yards and finished off the scoring drive with a one-yard keeper for the touchdown.
On the ensuing onside attempt, senior kicker Gaspar Tonnesen’s kick fell short of 10 yards and Tempe’s plans for a trip up north were put on hold for yet another season.
The Knights’ appearance in the semifinals marked their best finish under coach Tom Brittain, but in the end mistakes cost them a chance to capture their first title in program history.
“I’m the offensive coordinator, and I didn’t do a very good job,” said Brittain. “We moved the ball pretty well on occasion, but didn’t get it in on the goal line there and only scored seven points. The defense did their job, though.”
Even in a losing effort, Brittain admitted he was impressed by his team, who gave up only 10 points despite being extremely undersized against Morenci.
“I was proud of the way we battled,” said Brittain. “We were very undersized, but we were prepared. They didn’t out-physical us and it wasn’t our size that beat us. It was our mistakes, and they are a very good team. Size is no excuse.”