For the second week in a row the Sand Devils football team looked very impressive, getting important contributions from their offense, defense and special teams.
They traveled to Flagstaff Friday where they met the Florence Gophers under NAU’s Walkip Skydome. It was the first game of the season for Florence.
The Gophers found the endzone just twice during the game.
Like the game’s bookends, they scored the first touchdown of the game and the last touchdown of the game.
Florence began the game on offense from the 50 yard line after a pooch kick from the Sand Devils kicking team. Two plays later they had advanced the ball to the Sand Devils’ 25 yard line. On third and eleven they completed a pass to one of their wide receivers in the corner of the endzone. Their point after attempt, a kick, was no good.
The Sand Devils offense began from their own 30 yard line. Senior runningback Kele Meredith ran it seven yards on his first carry and 63 yards for a touchdown on his second carry. They also missed their PAT. The score was tied 6-6 with 8:58 left in the first quarter.
As he had done on week one, Sand Devils head football coach Mitchell Stephens alternated Gabe Gomez and Robert Smith at quarterback, with Gomez starting.
One the Gophers’ second possession their quarterback fumbled the ball on first down. The fumble was recovered by Hayden Gracia on the Gopher’s 38 yard line.
Robert Smith, in at quarterback during their second possession, ran for 19 yards on a quarterback keeper.
A few plays later, on second and goal from the six yard line, Smith completed a pass to receiver Justin Salabiye who was open in the endzone. A successful run by Gracia on the PAT gave the Sand Devil’s 14-6 lead.
A few plays later Gracia recovered another fumble from the Florence quarterback on the Gopher’s 25 yard line. Meredith and Gomez, leading the Sand Devils offense, would advance to the five yard line, where the drive ended on a Meredith fumble.
The Gopher’s runningbacks found some weaknesses in the Sand Devils’ defense putting together back to back first down runs which carried them into the Sand Devils’ end of the field. They got as far as the Sand Devils’ 28 yard line before Cheyenne Richardson blocked a Gopher’s pass. The batted pass was snatched out of the air by Sand Devils’ middle linebacker Brandon James.
The Sand Devils would add to their point lead after putting together an 80 yard drive with runs from Meredith and a 50 yard pass from Gomez to wide receiver Dainian Sloan.
Gomez would cap the drive with a two yard scamper into the endzone. A successful pass to Nikolas Yazzie on the PAT made the score 22-6.
The Gophers wasted no time turning over the ball for the fourth time. This time it occurred during kickoff when one of their players touched the ball, which was recovered by the Sand Devils on the Florence 43 yard line.
Sand Devils runningback Dillion Anderson advanced the ball 30 yards on two carries bringing the Sand Devils into the red zone once again. Meredith finished the drive a few plays later running it in from the four yard line. Sloan added two on the PAT giving the Sand Devils a 30 to six lead which they would take with them into halftime and throughout the entire third quarter.
The Sand Devils would add another touchdown early in the fourth quarter with a pass from Smith to Kimball Begay, and Gracia added two more points running it in on the PAT.
Each team would score one more time as the game wound down. Meredith entered the endzone again on a three yard run after Cheyenne Richardson recovered a Gophers’ fumble on Florence’s 13 yard line.
Florence scored their first touchdown during the first 90 seconds of the game and they’d do it again in the final 90 seconds of the game, but failed on their PAT attempt.
The final score read Sand Devils 46, Gophers 12.
Coach Stephens is impressed with his team’s readiness to play, he said after the game. His team is showing a mental preparedness that’s not usually seen until later in the season. His team gets few flags thrown on them. Coach Stephens said he was worried about how his team would perform mentally at last Friday’s game on NAU’s field.
“Normally we try to visit the playing field ahead of time, but because we had such an early start time we didn’t get a very good look at the field before game time,” he said. “I was concerned that my throw off our game but it didn’t phase them at all.”
Coach Stephens sees improvements in this year’s offense and defense.
“We continue to run the ball extremely well and we’ve thrown for over a hundred yards in both of our game and that is opening up our run game even more,” he said. “And we’re just doing our job.”
The Sand Devils posted 419 all-purpose yards against the Gophers, 111 of which came from passing and 308 from rushing.
The Sand Devils next game is this Friday in Page where they’ll meet the 1-1 Winslow Bulldogs in another non-conference game. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.