Surviving the heat of the Valley and a couple miscues in the second half against Youngker, the Flagstaff Eagles’ defense came up with stops when needed and the team opened the season with a second win.

Jumping ahead 21-0 early on, Flagstaff’s lead slowly slipped away as Youngker chipped away and forced fumbles to put pressure on the Eagles.

“We have been working hard and the heat did get to us,” said Eagles co-head coach Bob Castillo of the 21-20 win. “But to come out on top and for the defense to finish strong in the last three possessions as Youngker had every opportunity to take the lead in the game, the defense just overcame the heat to pull out the win.”

A year after suffering a heartbreaking 51-50 loss in the season opener to Coronado, Flagstaff’s senior-filled defense came up with its own clutch finish with the game on the line.

“A lot of our seniors are on the defense and they were not to be denied of the win,” Castillo said. “Those last three possessions were definitely the turning point in the game to keep it.”

Now looking for their first 3-0 start to a season since the 2006 season, the Flagstaff Eagles return home for their first 4A Conference, Grand Canyon Region game of the 2017 season. Hosting the Mohave Thunderbirds at 7:30 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome on Friday, the Eagles will look to repeat their 42-21 victory from 2016 in Bullhead City.

“We are definitely excited about being 2-0 at this point,” Castillo said. “To lose either one of these games like we did last year, it kind of defines the rest of your season. So we are definitely happy with 2-0, but we are not satisfied with that and we know we need to keep working hard.”

The Thunderbirds finished last season with a 1-9 record, only beating Lee Williams in the season finale. Already equaling their win total from last season with a Week One 36-0 victory against the River Valley Dust Devils, the Thunderbirds are now led by Gavin Valdivia at quarterback, who has hit for multiple deep touchdown passes this year.

While completing eight passes in his first two games, Valdivia has tallied 307 yards and four touchdowns, with Brent Moore the primary beneficiary at five receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns.

Valdivia also runs out of the quarterback position, with the Thunderbirds lining up two and occasionally three backs in the backfield or on the wing, as the junior has 18 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown. Junior running back William Robinzine has taken over the majority of the load in the backfield for Mohave, with 50 carries and 428 yards leading to a pair of scores.

Flagstaff will possibly counter with a pair of players returning from injury, as senior Tyler O'Hagan’s shoulder injury ended up less severe than originally feared and junior Josh Morrow also getting good news about his wrist injury sustained at Youngker.

“We were looking at that as being a long-term injury and it may not be this week, but as we get into the heart of our conference and region it’ll be good to have those guys back,” Castillo said.

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Cody Bashore serves as the beat writer for Northern Arizona University basketball and football in addition to covering high school sports around Flagstaff for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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