For much of two quarters Friday night, the Page football team appeared ready to put a damper on Mingus Union’s homecoming festivities.
The upstart Sand Devils, which only dressed 28 players, controlled possession, made a couple big plays, and with a successful onsides kick and touchdown pass in the second quarter, matched the Marauders 14-14.
But there’s more to a football game than one half. Mingus came out with renewed passion following intermission – which had included the crowning of one of its players as homecoming king – and routed their rivals from the distant north 55-20.
The Marauders scored 41 unanswered points during one stretch, including a pair of TDs in a 13-second span in the third quarter. They improved to 3-0 in the Grand Canyon Region, 5-3 overall.
"We knew we could run our offense on them. We just needed to get the ball a little bit," said Mingus coach Bob Young. "The defense, they were patient. They got a little frustrated that first half. They came out and dominated the second half."
Page used a short passing game and option rushing attack to keep the Marauders off balance in the early going. The Sand Devils more than doubled Mingus in offensive plays before the break and tied it up after falling behind 14-0 on a 10-yard strike from Joe Candelaria to Steven Erb.
But Mingus began to break Page's spirits as the half waned. The first big blow came on a 73-yard scoring pass from Aaron Welly to Albert Rodriguez with 2:08 left.
The Mingus quarterback delivered a perfect spiral to his speedy teammate, who had beaten two defenders badly. Rodriguez waltzed into the end zone untouched, and Scott Wilcox's extra point gave the Marauders a 21-14 lead.
The Sand Devils recovered enough to march to the Mingus 1 in the final minute. But a penalty pushed them back to the 16, and then Chris Rice intercepted a Candelaria pass in the end zone on fourth down with 15 seconds left.
If that play staggered Page, the beginning of the second half put them on the mat for good. After watching teammate David Wyatt earn homecoming honors during the break, the Marauders needed just two plays to score another touchdown and go ahead 28-14.
Senior Eddie Trujillo scampered 61 yards on the first play from scrimmage, and Anthony Randall pounded it in from the 7 on the next snap.
Randall helped Mingus add to its cushion with a 12-yard TD run later in the quarter. Welly then capped a 92-yard march that spanned the end of the third and early fourth quarter with a 13-yard touchdown scamper.
That set off one last scoring frenzy. Rodriguez picked off a pass on Page’s next play and raced 25 yards for a 48-14 advantage. T.J. Ricketts then intercepted another Sand Devils’ throw three plays later, and the Marauders traveled 28 yards in seven plays for their final points.
Rice, who picked off two passes during the game, plowed in from the 1. Wilcox hit his seventh extra point as the Marauders reached their second highest point total of 2001.
Mingus has intercepted six passes the past two weeks and returned three for touchdowns.
“Those turnovers are always critical,” Young said.
Page’s last score came in the final two minutes with Mingus subs in the game.
Following homecoming tradition, the Marauders dressed every player in their program, about 75 in all. Many of the junior varsity gridders saw action in the final period. The freshman-team players got to witness their first good ol’ fashioned Mingus romp up close.
"I wanted the freshman to get a feel for it," Young said. "I thought it would be a good opportunity for them to see what it's all about on the sidelines."
The win should boost the Marauders’ standing in the 4A power points. Mingus was 24th in the most recent poll and needs to crack the top 16 to get into the state playoffs.
Of course, the Marauders could lock up a postseason berth by winning its final two games at Sinagua (this Friday) and Coconino (Nov. 9). That would give them their first Grand Canyon Region championship since 1997 and an automatic bid.
The GCR looks like a three-horse race after this week’s games. Mingus and Coconino are both 3-0 in league play.
Sinagua dropped to 2-1 following Friday’s 15-0 loss to Coco. Flagstaff is 1-2, Page 1-3 and Chinle 0-4.
Young considers this week’s opponent a dangerous bunch. The Mustangs only won one game last year but have five victories under their belts in 2001.
"They are a good young team," the Mingus coach said. "I think they figured they were another year away, but I think they are ahead of schedule. They've got a very good quarterback and two real good skill guys. Their offensive line is greatly improved.
"It's going to be a tough game for us."
The Sinagua game will be played at the Walkup Skydome on the Northern Arizona University campus. Kickoff will be 7:30 p.m. instead of the usual 7 p.m. start.
While the dome game will bring a few adjustments to Young’s preparations – mainly for Astroturf and elevation – the coach isn’t focusing too much on playing in the unique environment.
“We’re not playing the dome. We’re playing Sinagua," he said.
Trujillo led all rushers Friday with 171 yards on 14 carries. He now has 868 yards on the season. Welly was 4-for-9 in passing for 117 yards.