The Safford Bulldogs came up short against the Valley Christian (Chandler) Trojans 27-48 in a showdown between previously 5-0 3A programs Friday.
The game’s first score came on a deep pass from Valley Christian quarterback Hunter Heeringa to receiver Austyn Gerard, giving the Trojans an early 7-0 lead.
Later, Valley Christian tried a fake punt from well inside their own territory that ended with an incompletion, giving the Bulldogs good field position.
It wouldn’t take long for Safford to score after a facemask penalty by the Trojans. Christian Smith scored this one, part of a three-touchdown day. Safford’s extra point attempt was no good, so the score would stay at 7-6.
Safford would quickly score again, thanks to a few Valley Christian penalties and a 4th-and-long conversion hauled in by Fernando Gonzales from quarterback Jojo Ruelas.
Damien “Monster” Rios was the one carrying on the touchdown, which gave Safford a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Valley Christian running back Kaden Majercak had his first of a few big runs, getting the Trojans near the goal line. The Bulldogs would stand strong in goal line defense, however, forcing a short field goal from Trojan kicker Sean Bird to cut the deficit to 13-10.
On the first play of the following drive, Ruelas threw an interception that Valley Christian defender Cade Accomazzo returned for a touchdown, giving the Trojans their 10th point in as many seconds.
With just over two minutes left before the half, Safford gave up a safety on a punt snap miscue to make it 19-13, and Heeringa and Gerard would get their second touchdown of the half with 1:09 remaining in the half.
The Bulldogs benefitted from a big gain by Smith on this drive, but weren’t able to capitalize before the half. Ruelas had Ki Turner in the endzone but the two failed to connect. Safford was down 26-13 at the break.
To start out his first drive, Smith found a big gain after the catch to bring the Bulldogs to the 1-yardline and he would score from there, his second of the day, making it 26-20 early in the second half.
Majercak broke free for another big run to bring Valley Christian inside the red zone, and Heeringa would find Matthew Barragan for the score, answering the Bulldogs and getting their lead back to double-digits at 32-20.
After another safety given up by Safford on another punting miscue, Heeringa found Adam Bradford for a 30-plus yard gain, and Majercak put the exclamation point on the drive with a score, making it 41-20 with less than two minutes in the third quarter.
The only scores in the fourth quarter came shortly after a blocked field goal attempt when Smith ran his third in for the Bulldogs and when Majercak responded shortly afterwards, bringing the score up to 48-27.
Bulldog Head Coach Bob Park is optimistic about the prospects for the rest of the season.
“To be the best, you gotta beat the best. We fell a little short tonight, but it was a lot of positives, and honestly there’s a lot of things we can clean up. And we’re gonna be a better team because of who we played tonight,” he said.
Next week, Safford (5-1) will travel to Tucson to face 4A Pueblo (2-2). Valley Christian (6-0) will play an away game in Scottsdale against Coronado High (2-4).