Riding a high following a convincing 44-12 home victory against the Coronado Dons in this past Friday’s season opener, the Flagstaff Eagles (1-0) now head to Buckeye to face an opponent they handled similarly a year ago.
Last season’s meeting with the Youngker Roughriders (1-1) ended in a 37-14 victory in the Walkup Skydome, beginning a three-game win streak. The Roughriders entered last year’s game winless at 0-2 and ultimately dropped their first seven games of the season.
Compiling a 6-35 record over the past four seasons, 4A Conference member Youngker has yet to record a winning season in its eight years of varsity play. Now Tony Cluff takes over for Kelly Epley as the Roughriders’ head coach, a position he formerly held at Agua Fria. Cluff served as the team’s defensive coordinator a year ago, when Flagstaff turned a five-point lead into a 23-point victory thanks to 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Greg Dotstry and Zavier Reeves each rushed for 600 yards as sophomores and stand as the key returners to the Roughriders’ offense. Reeves rushed for 86 yards against Flagstaff a year ago, one of his best outputs of the season, but Flagstaff co-head coach Paul Wolf said the team appeared a bit more balanced in its play calling in its first two games this season.
“The breakdown I got on them, they went 50-50: 50 percent pass and 50 percent run,” Wolf said. “They have got some big lineman, so I am sure they will try to run the ball on us some.”
According to MaxPreps.com, Dotstry has rushed for 239 yards and five touchdowns on 29 carries through Youngker’s first two games of the season. Reeves has added two scores on the ground to go along with 187 yards on 34 carries as Youngker beat Dysart 19-14 in Week Zero and fell to 3A Florence 61-35 last week.
Flagstaff will counter with a defensive line, led by a group of seniors, that stifled Coronado’s offense early on in last week’s victory. With their defense not allowing a point until the final quarter of the game.
Seniors Everett Evangelesta and Kevin Sun came away with multi-sack games for the Eagles, with Evangelesta’s touchdown on a fumbled snap by Coronado’s punter less than two minutes into the game setting the stage for Flagstaff’s blowout.
“We have been working hard since November. The core of both sides of the line have been lifting since then and have been together on a lot of things we have been doing,” said Flagstaff co-head coach Bob Castillo. “Last year I tried to keep the offense intact and not let them play defense, and those guys are obviously good defenders so I promised them I would let them play defense as long as they are in shape.”
However, the Eagles did suffer a loss against the Dons in the form of an injury to senior Tyler O’Hagan. Knocked out of the Coronado game with a shoulder injury after just five plays, which included a pair of tackles, O’Hagan’s status for the rest of the season is to be determined.
A key player on each side of the ball, O’Hagan’s absence opened up playing time for seniors Jonathan Baca and Lemar Smith. Smith filled in on the defensive side of the ball while Baca took over on the offensive line, with both standing up to the new challenge, according to Castillo.
Both Wolf and Castillo also singled out kicker Oscar Castruita’s impact on the defense, as he forced Coronado to begin five drives on the 20-yard line as he put five of his seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. The sophomore also connected on a 39-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
With its defense controlling much of the game and the ground attack on offense consistently generating first downs, Flagstaff kept the pressure off of new starting quarterback Henry Tagle. Attempting just three passes, Tagle’s workload ended up light in his first career varsity game. The final score against Coronado could have been even more lopsided as six of the Dons’ points came on a pick-six that went back 100 yards after Tagle’s pass was tipped up at the goal line and returned back.