Both the Flagstaff and Mingus Union football teams broke in new quarterbacks Friday night in a Grand Canyon Region clash.
The No. 26 Eagles started backup quarterback Joe Weidinger in place of injured Henry Tagle, and the Marauders, No. 13 in the 4A Conference, were without Antoine Zabala and went in a more nontraditional direction.
Instead of playing a quarterback behind center, Mingus elected to play star running back Alex Nelson as a Wildcat quarterback for the entire game. The call worked as the Marauders (7-2, 4-1 Grand Canyon Region) were able to stay alive in the race for a region title, beating the Eagles (3-6, 2-3) 28-24 at the Walkup Skydome Friday night.
Nelson carried the Marauders offense all game. He accounted for 40 of the 44 total offensive plays for Mingus. He ran the ball 39 times for 262 yards of his team’s 315 total rushing yards, rushed for three touchdowns and was 0-for-1 passing.
Coming into the night, Nelson was second in the region in total rushing yards behind Prescott quarterback Austin Clark, and the Flagstaff's coaching staff knew he was the top priority going into Friday.
“That was our game plan, to stop him,” Eagles co-head coach Bob Castillo said. “He’s one tough kid and definitely he has our vote for region player of the year. When one man can do that to you, it's hard to stop them and we just could not stop him. He ran with a lot of guts I thought.”
The first half was dominated by Mingus, which entered the second leading 21-10 behind 202 yards from Nelson in the first half alone.
The Eagles lone touchdown of the first half came after Josh Thomas forced Nelson to fumble and then the Josh Morrow punched in a 13-yard run on the ensuing Eagles possession. The Eagles closed the first half with a 30-yard field goal by Oscar Castruita.
Once the second half started, the Eagles defense figured out how to limit the Mingus run game, and Flagstaff started to chip away at the deficit.
Despite starting inside Mingus territory twice in the third quarter, the Eagles were unable to score on either possessions -- missing a 52-yard field goal on the first and later because Weidinger was intercepted inside the Marauders 30-yard line.
The Marauders answered the interception with a 12-play scoring drive that lasted from about the two-minute mark of the third until the 6:20 mark in the fourth quarter to push their lead to 28-10. The Eagles responded with a scoring drive of their own, capped off with an 18-yard score by Luis Jaramillo, to cut the lead to just 28-18 with less than three minutes left.
After a failed onside kick, the Marauders took kneels on the first two downs, forcing the Eagles to burn their remaining two timeouts, and essentially allowed Flagstaff to take over on downs inside its own territory with about 2:30 left in the game.
Flagstaff marched down the field, and with the help of a face mask penalty drawn by Jaramillo, scored a 25-yard touchdown pass by Weidinger to Dayton Koyiyumptewa -- Weidinger's first TD throw of the year and Koyiyumptewa's first end zone appearance of the season.
The late surge came too late as the final onside kick was recovered by Mingus and Flagstaff dropped its fourth single-digit loss at home.
Weidinger finished 14-for-21 passing with one touchdown and pick in his first full game of the year.
“A lot of that is just game-time experience,” Castillo said. “It’s been Henry all year and to be thrown into this big region match-up is tough. I’m sure he will learn and just get better. We only have one game to get better and what better game than Coconino.”
Jaramillo ran for about 55 yards and one score and had four catches for 39 yards on the night.
The Eagles will close the season against Coconino next Friday at Cromer Stadium.