Entering the most vital point of their season, the No. 12 Flagstaff Eagles will gain a considerable amount of clarity regarding their bid for a playoff berth following Friday.
Sitting at 6-1 overall, Flagstaff is the only Grand Canyon Region school remaining undefeated in region play, but Mingus Union (3-4, 3-1) and Prescott (4-3, 2-1) each have the opportunity to knock off the Eagles in the next two weeks.
“It’s a big game, just like Bradshaw Mountain,” said Eagles co-head coach Paul Wolf. “We haven’t beaten those guys in years, so we are hoping it is our year again.”
The Marauders have beaten the Eagles in 10 of the past 11 seasons, with Flagstaff’s lone win coming in 2013. The 24-14 victory accounted for Flagstaff’s most points scored against Mingus Union in more than a decade, as well as the only time the Eagles held the Marauders under 20 points since 2005.
With the average score of 44-12 in the past 11 meetings, Flagstaff hopes to turn recent history around in order to win its first Grand Canyon Region title since 2005. Already clinching its first winning season since a 6-4 record in 2013, the Eagles can guarantee a region title with wins in the next two weeks due to the Marauders' win against the Prescott Badgers last week.
But Flagstaff will have to get the win in Cottonwood.
Now ranked No. 22 in the 4A Conference, Mingus Union bounced back from a 45-16 blowout loss to No. 27 Bradshaw Mountain at home with a 38-6 win at No. 19 Prescott last Friday. Producing two 200-yard rushers as Alex Nelson and Tyler Kelly each reached the mark and ran for two scores apiece, the Marauders blew past the Badgers to hand them their first region loss.
“Bradshaw is for real; they have got a physical team and a big line. We just caught them at the right time, I think, because they are loaded,” Wolf said of Mingus Union’s loss to Bradshaw. “(Mingus) made a lot of mistakes against Bradshaw, had a blocked punt, snapped a ball over their heads for a touchdown, stuff like that. It just kind of snowballed on them. In the Wing-T, you get behind and you are screwed, because it’s all ball control.”
Leading 18-6 midway through the third quarter, Mingus Union closed out Prescott with three touchdowns on the ground in the fourth, with Wolf adding the same issues that tripped up the Marauders a week earlier plagued the Badgers last week.
While Nelson and Kelly each had strong performances last week, the duo has been consistent throughout Mingus Union’s tough schedule. Nelson, a junior, has carried the ball 96 times for 705 yards and nine scores while adding four sacks on defense. Kelly, a senior, has rushed for 624 yards on 68 carries and seven touchdowns; he scored four times against the Eagles a season ago.
Sitting at 3-4 overall, three of the Marauders' losses came to potential playoff teams with Cactus ranked No. 4, Higley at No. 5 and Cactus Shadows just behind Flagstaff at No. 13. Now with Bradshaw Mountain, Prescott and Mingus Union all sitting with one region loss, Flagstaff controls its own destiny or could end up in a convoluted tie between multiple schools pending the results of the final three weeks.
While looking to make a playoff berth easier on itself, Flagstaff will be without a few of its key seniors Friday against Mingus Union. Missing last week’s game with a shoulder injury, team sacks leader and starting left guard Everett Evangelesta is out for the remainder of his senior year. Tyler Stickler filled in for Evangelesta on offense with A.J. Tungovia doing so on the defensive side.
Injured last week against Lee Williams, senior running back and safety Lucas Salcido is dealing with his own shoulder injury. Dillon Joseph would fill in on offense if Salcido is unable to play, with Michael Becenti Jr. doing so on the defensive side.