After a scorching 3-0 start, the Rio Rico High Hawks’ three-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt Friday night in Graham County.
The Safford High Bulldogs entered the contest with a 2-1 record but managed to squelch Rio Rico’s high-powered running attack as they went on to defeat the Hawks 48-21. In addition, the Hawks could not seem to stop Safford’s offense, conceding touchdowns on the first four Bulldog possessions.
Rio Rico appeared in command after receiving the opening kickoff. They marched 71 yards down the field, only to have their drive stalled by a costly holding penalty. The drive ended with a turnover on downs.
Safford immediately responded with a 91-yard drive of their own, capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tyler Shurtz to Jordan Davis. Just three minutes later, Shurtz struck again, this time hitting Robert Lopez for a 5-yard touchdown reception.
Safford’s Damien Vizcarra rushed for two touchdowns as the Bulldogs finished the first half leading 27-0 (Victor Cazarez of the Hawks blocked an extra point kick). After their opening drive, the Hawks managed only 26 yards of offense in the first half.
The third quarter continued much the same as Safford picked up two more rushing touchdowns, while holding Rio Rico. The third quarter ended with Safford leading 41-0.
Finally, Rio Rico found an offensive groove during the fourth quarter. After both teams had substituted for many of their starters, freshman quarterback Sean Fanning managed to find senior wide receiver Dan Gastellum three different times for touchdown passes.
Gastellum’s best moment came with 8:57 left on the clock, as he pulled down a long pass for a 44-yard touchdown. Two minutes later, after a 10-yard touchdown catch, Rio Rico was within three scores. It was too little, too late, however, as Safford picked off a Sean Fanning pass and converted it into a 24-yard touchdown run by senior running back Chris Garrobo; his second rushing touchdown in the game.
Defensively, the Hawks had difficulty making first tackles. Once Rio Rico’s defense committed to the running game, Shurtz would complete short passes resulting in significant gains. As Rio Rico reacted by defending the passing game, Garrobo responded with some impressive gains on the ground.
The Hawks also gave up six quarterback sacks. Notable individual performances for Rio Rico, though, include John Brewington’s 97 yards rushing and 10 total tackles. Fanning finished the night 5 of 11 passing for 87 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception. Gastellum collected 3 receptions—all for touchdowns—for 64 total yards.
Carlos Uribe and Jose Valle also had 6 tackles each on defense. Uribe, a defensive lineman, demonstrated his speed and perseverance by running 25 yards to make a touchdown-saving tackle during the third quarter.
Gastellum also rocketed a 55-yard punt while kicker Dominic Ram has continued his nearly-flawless place-kicking by nailing 3 more PATs.
The next game for Rio Rico will be their homecoming match versus Santa Rita on Friday night at 7 p.m.