With a 36-22 win over the Willcox Cowboys Nov. 12 in Parker, the Parker Broncs football team has advanced to the Arizona Interscholastic Association state 2A semi-finals. The No. 1 ranked Broncs will face the No. 4 team, the Morenci Wildcats, at 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 20 at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix.

Morenci advanced to the semi-finals by defeating the No. 5 Gilbert Christian Knights, 35-23, Nov. 12 in Morenci.

“We’re down to the best four teams in the state,” Parker Coach Jeston Lotts said. “At this point, everybody is really good.”

The No. 8 ranked Cowboys were a real challenge for the Broncs on Nov. 12. This was very different from the week before, when the Broncs routed the No. 16 Red Mesa Redskins. After three quarters, the game with Willcox was tied, and it looked like the Cowboys might pull off an upset. The Broncs, led by heroics from Thaddeus Nopah, Anthony Taylor and especially Cameron Poole, took things up a notch in the fourth quarter for the win.

The Broncs got on the board first, with Anthony Taylor taking one in for a touchdown and then getting the two-point conversion with 10:04 left in the first quarter. 

Not even three minutes later, the Cowboys made it clear this game would be no rout as Cristian Pando ran the ball in for a touchdown and Alexis Hernandez kicked for the extra point.

The Broncs responded with a touchdown near the end of the first quarter, but they failed on the two-point conversion attempt. At the end of the first quarter, it was Parker 14, Willcox 7.

In the second quarter, the Cowboys drove deep into Broncs’ territory, and with 8 minutes left in the half, they were at first and goal. They got the touchdown 21 seconds later, but the extra point attempt missed. They had come within one point of the Broncs, who led, 14-13.

With 5:39 left in the half, Thaddeus Nopah made a 30-yard touchdown run for the Broncs. With a successful two –point conversion, the Broncs surged ahead, 22-13.

The Cowboys responded by moving down the field with passes from Ayden Fuentes to Marcus Oliveras and Pando for big gains. Once they got pass the Broncs’ 30-yard line, they went with short gains. They got down to the Broncs’ 1-yard line, and then got a touchdown with 41 second left in the first half. They went for a two-point conversion, which was no good. At halftime, the game still looked very competitive with the score Parker 22, Willcox 19.

The offense for both teams was relatively quiet in the third quarter. The Cowboys again drove deep into Broncs’ territory, and, with four minutes left, it looked like they had a touchdown that would’ve given them the lead for the first time in the game. However, it was called back on a penalty.

With 3:30 left in the quarter, the Cowboys were at 4th and 10 when they had Hernandez come in for a field goal attempt. It was good, and the score at the end of the third quarter was tied, 22-22.

It was in the fourth quarter that the Broncs defense and offense came together to take things up a notch. With 7:27 left and the Cowboys pushing hard down the field, the Broncs recovered a fumble on a pass. Led by gutsy runs from Thaddeus Nopah, the Broncs moved the ball deep into the Cowboys’ end of the field. With 4:15 left in the game, Anthony Taylor took another touchdown in for the Broncs. The two-pointer attempt was no good, partly due to a penalty. The Broncs led, 28-22.

With just under three minutes left in the game, it became The Cameron Poole Show. First, the Cowboys tried to pull a fast one with a double pass. Quarterback Ayden Fuentes threw a lateral pass to one of his receivers, who then threw a long pass downfield. This pass attempt failed when it was intercepted by Poole.

With 2:15 left in the game, Poole struck again as took in a touchdown for the Broncs. Nopah got the two-point conversion to put the Broncs up, 36-22.

The Cowboys tried to drive down the field after the kickoff, but Poole struck a third time when he recovered a fumble to ice the win with 2:03 remaining.

Lotts praised the entire team’s effort. In addition to Taylor, Nopah and Stanton, he praised Damien Najara, Ezra Martinez, and Gage Honomichl. He said the team’s veterans led the way.

“The seniors did what seniors are supposed to do,” he said.

Lotts also had praise for sophomore quarterback Zach Bennett.

“He’s been a steady rock at quarterback all season,” Lotts said.

“I’m proud of these young men and I’m enjoying being a part of what they’re doing,” he said of the team.

The Morenci Wildcats are in the 2A San Pedro, the same region as Willcox. They finished in second place with a 4-1 record in the region, 8-1 against 2A teams, and 8-2 overall. They were only one of two teams to defeat Willcox this past regular season.

The semi-final game will be played at Desert Vista High School, which is located at 16440 S. 32nd Street in Phoenix. Tickets are $10 and are available online only at Azpreps365.com. They must be purchased with a smart phone, and the tickets must be on your phone so they can be verified at the gate.

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