WILLCOX — A last-minute touchdown followed by a goal-line stand helped Willcox to a dramatic victory in their long awaited home opener Friday night. The Cowboys trailed the Pima Roughriders for most of the contest before giving their homecoming fans a breathtaking finish to a 13-12 win to improve their region record to 2-0.
“It was a great game,” Cowboy head coach Eric Hjalmarson said. “They’re a good team, but we’re a good team too.”
Pima seemed to run out of breath in their last-ditch effort to beat the clock and steal back the win.
“We came off of a two-week quarantine and our kids were really winded,” Roughrider coach Jim Hughes said. “It’s hard to cut two weeks out of the schedule without being out of shape.”
Pima opened the season with a loss versus Thatcher before cancelling a meeting with Benson due to a COVID outbreak. They started off well enough at Willcox by taking a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter on sophomore running back Wyatt Wiltbank’s 31-yard touchdown burst up the middle.
Willcox answered three minutes later on sophomore quarterback Ayden Fuentes’ 48-yard touchdown strike to sophomore flanker Christian Pando. Both teams failed on their conversion tries as the score stood 6-6 at the end of the first half.
Both teams had quarterbacks who wore the number-seven jersey, with Fuentes enjoying a big night in the air by going 6-11 for 133 yards while also rushing for 52 yards.
Pima senior signal caller Kaleb Blair rushed for 70 yards and came alive as a passer in the second half, going 3-6 for 61 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown strike to sophomore tight end Seth Russell to take a 12-6 lead at 8:17 of the fourth quarter.
Pima appeared ready to seal the deal after intercepting Fuentes at midfield and breaking a 21-yard run to the Cowboy 14-yard line on the ensuing drive. But sophomore Garret Curtis fumbled at the end of that run and Willcox Coach Hjalmarson seized the opportunity.
“We stuck with what we do, and just kept plugging away,” he said.
But he made a slight change as Pima continually stuffed senior tailback Ote Allsup, who was held to 31 yards rushing on 13 attempts on the night. On the game winning drive, Hjalmarson mixed in rushes from the seldom used Pando, who gained 31 yards on five carries. Fuentes had the key play of the drive when he broke loose from an illegal face mask tackle and scrambled for 15-yards, with 15 tacked on for the penalty. A first and goal from the eight turned into a game-tying score as Fuentes covered the yardage on three consecutive runs, including the one-yard touchdown with 1:11 to go. Senior kicker Brian Magana nailed the kick conversion for the 13-12 advantage.
“What I took from our kids effort is what we did at the very end with a minute and 11 seconds to go in the game,” said Pima coach Hughes. “We came down the field and that was a good thing for us. It showed character on their part.”
Pima had first and goal at the five-yard line with 18-seconds left after a pass-interference penalty and a personal foul penalty against Willcox. They were able to use their timeouts and run four plays, with an incomplete pass followed by a 3-yard run and a one-yard run from Blair to the one-yard line.
“We probably should have kicked the field goal and won it,” Hughes said. “It was on the one-yard line and I felt like we could get a yard like we did on fourth-down earlier in the quarter and felt like that was the safest thing.’
Willcox stuffed Blair one last time at the six-inch line to preserve the win and avert a disastrous ending.
“Our defense stood out tonight and played very well,” Hjalmarson said.
Instead of contemplating the upcoming trip to Bisbee this Friday, the coach chose to revel in the moment of his first ever Willcox home game.
“What a great place, right?”