THATCHER — After a seasonal false start, Thatcher hosted 3A American Leadership Academy on Aug. 30.
The Patriots put up a nearly flawless passing game to end the Eagles’ win streak and deliver Thatcher a 54-25 loss.
ALA head coach Rich Edwards said, “We’re obviously pleased with the way things turned out. We have to clean a few things up — personal fouls and holding penalties — way too many penalties. To come out against Thatcher, a team that’s in line for a fourth championship, to come out and be as physical as they were . . . we wanted to answer their physicality, and we were able to do that, and that’s the part we’re really thrilled with.”
ALA scored on almost every possession it had, bringing on the points by mixing deep passing plays with runs. The Patriots scored twice in the first quarter, both on running plays — the second one on a 70-yard sprint down the field. Both PATs were good.
Between those touchdowns, Thatcher answered with one of its own off a long drive started by Bretton Dodge and finished by Mark Wren’s 11-yard run. The PAT went wide.
ALA piled on three more touchdowns in the second quarter with the help of more deep passes that connected, including a 51-yard pass completed by Ethen Cluff, and two 15-yard passing touchdowns.
Thatcher trailed, 35-13, at halftime.
Thatcher head coach Ramon Morales said, “We’re young and have some people that haven’t played or are in new positions. It’s something we’re going to have to work on. We’re going to have to get better. We talked at halftime about how we could roll over; we could come back and keep fighting. That’s our mentality. That’s what we preach. I’m proud of the way our boys responded.
“As far as I could tell, (ALA) had only two kids going both ways, and we have most of our kids going both ways. It’s rough. I think we got tired. The intensity of these games is always higher than what you do in practice. I think they learned that people are going to come after us, and we have to have people either step up or our first string is going to have get in shape to play four quarters.”
Both teams held each other to one touchdown each in the third quarter. ALA scored first off a 33-yard pass, and Thatcher’s Kyle O’Donnal ran the ball in on a 45-yard sprint. The Eagles tried a 2-point conversion but came up short.
Thatcher forced ALA to punt a couple of times in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots managed to score two more touchdowns, one on a 13-yard running play and another on a 21-yard passing play.
Dodge scored the fourth and final Eagles touchdown, finishing off a long drive with a 14-yard run.
Dodge said, “This game showed us what we’ve got to work on and the weaknesses we have, but we’ll come out next week and just practice real hard. We’re going to find out what we can do and get right to it. We’ll fix everything.”
Thatcher (0-1) played Show Low, another 3A team, on Sept. 6 and hosts Safford on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at Eastern Arizona College.