The Morenci Wildcats are soon on their way to Desert Vista High School to face #1 Parker in the 2A football semi-finals.

The Wildcats handed the Gilbert Christian Knights a 35-23 loss Friday night. That win moves MHS into a spot as one of the final four teams left standing at the 2021 season.

Morenci depended on good defense and key runs by the Wildcats’ potent rushers; Michael Casillas, Patrick Chavez, Derek Saenz and Daylen Johnson. The MHS rushing attack came on the backs of outstanding offensive line play by the Wildcat players in the trenches.

The Knights turned the ball over on their first drive setting the Wildcats up at the Gilbert Christian 45-yard line.

Runs by Casillas and Chavez moved the ball smartly down the field and Johnson sealed the deal with the final needed yard with 3:23 left in the first quarter. The two-point attempt failed, 6-0.

As period one slipped past the Knights were on the move. Starting at their own 30, Gilbert reached the MHS 10-yard line as time ran out.

The Knights started the second quarter by stalling out at the Morenci 12. The Knights didn’t want to come away empty-handed after moving so close and opted for a field goal attempt.

Wildcat Gavin Baca was able to get around the edge of the Knights’ offensive line and dove in front of the Gilbert kicker and blocked the attempt and set the Cats up at the 28- yard line.

On the legs of Saenz and Casillas and the backs of the ‘O’ line, Morenci went 72-yards on 10-plays. Casillas cashed in from six yards out, and quarterback Johnson, on a keeper, picked the two-point conversion, 14-0 with 6:22 remaining in the half. That score would close out the first half.

Morenci’s first drive of the second half stalled and the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs at the Knights’ 31 yard line.

Gilbert Christian used the arm of quarterback Matthew Hershey to move the ball deep into MHS territory and Hershey would use his legs to force his way into the Cats’ end zone from 10 yards out. Elijio Ledesma would pick up the two-point conversion, 14-8, with 2:28 left in the third period.

That quarter would end with Morenci on the move again.

The Wildcats opened the final period with four runs by Casillas, 20-14, make it five runs as Casillas added the two-point conversion, 22-14.

The Knights then put together an impressive six-play, 78-yard drive. Hersey called his own number again, from one yard away, successful PAT, 22-15.

With a little over six minutes left in the game and seemingly bolstered by their last two drives, The Knights attempted a short on-side kick in hope of giving themselves another offensive opportunity.

The ball dribbled a short distance toward the right side of the Wildcats formation. Saenz reached down, gathered up the ball and dashed, untouched into the Knights’ end zone. PAT by Austin Nelson, 29-15.

Again the Knights put together a successful drive, and again Hershey capped it off with a QB-keeper. Ledesma added the two-point conversion, 29-23 with 3:50 left to play.

Another short on-side kick by the Knights set Morenci up with a short field.

A short field for the Wildcats? Bad Idea. At mid-field, time running out, the Wildcats decided to put the ball in the very capable hands and legs of Casillas.

Five Casillas runs picked up 48 yards and the final touchdown of the night. 35-23 with failed PAT with 59 ticks left on the clock.

The now 8-2 Wildcats find themselves in the class 2A “Final Four”; with Benson (#3), Arizona Lutheran (#2) and Parker at #1. Morenci at #4 will face Parker on Friday night at Desert Vista at 6 p.m.

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