WILLCOX — A three-game winning streak that includes Friday’s 26-16 win over Tombstone may not quite be enough to position the Willcox football varsity for a postseason berth as it prepares to finish the regular season at powerful Benson this Friday night.
“I feel good about the chance,” third-year head coach Alonzo Highsmith said. “You play 10 games for a chance at another season. It’s always exciting that there’s a possibility.”
This week’s power rankings were not released at press deadline but should place Willcox at No. 15 or No. 16, a one- or two-spot bump from No. 17 after beating No. 32 Tombstone. Its best chance to remain there and qualify in the top 16 for state would be a victory at No. 9 Benson.
“We’re going in with the mindset of win,” Highsmith said, “not necessarily for the playoffs. It’s a big game for both communities. We want to come out victorious, whether the playoffs are on the line or not.”
The coach admitted that the Cowboys will have to be better than what they showed against Tombstone. Willcox trailed, 9-0, early in that game after giving up a field goal and a 1-yard touchdown set up by a 49-yard pass play midway through the first quarter.
The momentum-turner came on its own big pass play, a 21-yard strike from sophomore quarterback Jacob Abarka to junior receiver Cael Debaun, at the 3:38 mark of the first period. That score was set up by junior Ote Allsup’s 52-yard kickoff return.
“Cael’s touchdown was big and set a chain reaction for us to start take control,” Highsmith said.
The defense then forced two consecutive safeties, which bookended a 2-yard touchdown run from senior Caiden Hall, who also had a 14-yard run and caught a 13-yard pass in the same drive.
“I also think Johnny Garcia had a great game all around,” the coach said.
“He blocked a punt and made the tackle for the safety. He got a sack. He had big blocks on offense and was all over the field,” Highsmith said. “He would have gotten the Gruden grinder award for sure.”
Abarka connected with Allsup for a 14-yard score late in the third quarter, and the squad survived a fumble that was returned 20 yards for a score to still get the 10-point margin of victory.
“We have to be better than we were against Tombstone. I think everyone knows that,” the coach said. “Not only is Benson a good team, there will be plenty of emotion.
“Benson has played tough competition all year. So they’ll be ready for us. So we have to establish our brand of football early. We need to get our running backs going and block well, hit quick passes, stay ahead of the chains and not get penalties.”
Win and they’re in; lose and Willcox does not control its own playoff destiny.
“It’s very big to have a chance at playoffs. It’s big for morale and a confidence booster,” Highsmith said. “It makes others take notice. We want people who play us to understand they have to come ready to play.”