The bleachers at John Ordean Memorial Stadium were sparingly filled at kickoff of Sedona Red Rock High School football team’s home opener against 3A Holbrook High School on Friday, Sept. 8.
As the Scorpion faithful filed in during the following minutes they quickly realized that they had already missed out on quite a bit of action; it was 13-6 in favor of the hosts not eight minutes in.
Little did anyone know how much action was yet to come.
Almost two overtimes, three hours and 126 total points later, the Scorpions [0-3] left the field after losing 67-59 to the Roadrunners [1-2].
“It was an exciting game, nobody could stop anybody,” Scorpions head coach Tom Miller said. “I’ve never been more proud of a team in all my years of coaching than this team tonight. For the guys to be playing all the snaps and special teams and everything else, to be right in there fighting and go to double overtime.”
Red Rock hit the ground running. Senior quarterback Javi Pacheco carried the ball 60 yards on the second play from scrimmage for a score, splitting two tacklers on the sideline to spark the big play. His feet got him out of trouble on multiple occasions. Soon after he carried it in from two yards out to make it 13-0.
“He was making plays, when the play broke down that’s when he was the best,” said Miller of Pacheco.
Holbrook had a roster almost twice the size on paper and in person compared to Red Rock’s. The Roadrunners ran the ball again and again; senior quarterback Frankie Ulibarri threw just three passes, completing one.
That constant battle eventually wore the Scorpions down, but they had every chance to win it until the very end.
Opposite the ground-and-pound Roadrunners were the big-play Scorpions. Nonetheless neither team could stop the other. The Scorpions scored on five of seven first-half possessions and Holbrook was four of six. In total, including overtime, Red Rock was eight of 13 and Holbrook eight of 12.
Ulibarri scored seven touchdowns while senior Zakhari Waits converted six two-point tries.
But Holbrook junior Jeffrey Jones opened the scoring for the visitors, and the point after was missed.
“It’s just sheer size, the whole time it was never just one person on [Waits],” Scorpions senior receiver Branaghan Cunningham said. “It was always a gang tackle. With the sheer fact that every single player on their line outweighs us, it’s just like a flood coming at us.”
Red Rock’s third score came when freshman receiver Jackson Couglin took a pitch running right, scoring from a yard out. It capped a drive that lasted hardly more than a minute, and Coughlin set up the score with a 58-yard catch-and-run. Pacheco broke a tackle in the backfield for the two-point conversion.
Twenty-three seconds later Holbrook scored, making it 21-13. Possessions averaged less than three minutes in duration.
And on the two teams went, relentlessly scoring.
Ulibarri had three straight touchdowns to give his team its first lead. He again pounded his way into the end zone, 28-19. Then he picked off a Pacheco check down pass and returned it, 28-27.
Red Rock’s Anthony Quintero fumbled on the next series, and Ulibarri capitalized on the short field, 35-28 Roadrunners.
Cunningham ran 60-yards for a score after a jump-ball completion from Pacheco.
It was tied at 35 at halftime — things slowed just a little in the second half.
Holbrook scored hardly 30 seconds in. Pacheco got picked off again, but for the first time the Scorpions defense forced a punt.
Then came the big twist.
Pacheco scampered 28 yards to the Holbrook six, horse-collar tackled by Ulibarri, and all of their weight came down on his left ankle. Pacheco was stretchered off with 21 seconds left in the third, the Scorpions down 43-35.
If there were a fantasy league for high schools, he could have been one of the top players with 339 yards of total offense [152 pass, 187 rush], three touchdowns, two interceptions and a two-point conversion.
Junior Jake Brown entered at quarterback and threw Cunningham a touchdown, sending the sideline and fans into a roar.
TD RED ROCK: 43-43, Jake Brown in @ QB finds Cunningham from 14yds. 2pt con fumbled into end zone & Sr Cole Edens picks it up #SedonaSports— Daniel Hargis (@d_harg) September 9, 2017
“It wasn’t down at all, I mean you feel for your teammate but we’re not about to just go out and be disappointed and lose the game,” Cunningham said. “We had a break and said, ‘For Javi’ and so we just played absolutely our hardest.”
Holbrook responded with a nine-play, 66-yard drive to regain the lead. For every Roadrunner touchdown, Red Rock had an answer.
Scorpions junior wide receiver Evan Favorite drew a pass interference on third and long to keep the ensuing drive alive. Favorite and Brown connected for the touchdown and two-point conversion, 51-51, 3:13 left.
Red Rock recovered the onside kick but the drive stalled after a holding call.
A Holbrook hold killed its attempt at a last-gasp win, too.
By this time the stands had thinned out again, although the action was not yet over.
The Scorpions got the first possession of overtime. Favorite drew another pass interference, and Cunningham wrestled down another jump ball in the corner. Favorite grabbed the two-pointer.
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For Holbrook, Ulibarri again ran it in, and again Waits converted two. They had the next possession and did the same, on fourth down.
Brown connected with Favorite, but three straight incomplete passes ended the shootout.
Pacheco is out at least four weeks with a severe ankle sprain and ligament damage, per Scorpions athletic trainer Andrea Bagnell.
Red Rock opens regional play at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at Parker High School.
“We’re going to show up,” Miller said. “We’re definitely going to devise a plan to be successful with what we’ve got.”