Yuma Catholic had its bid for back-to-back Division V titles snuffed out in the semifinals last year by eventual champion Northwest Christian. The Shamrocks are back for a shot at their second title in three years after soundly beating Thatcher in the semifinals, 72-34. Thatcher dealt Yuma Catholic one of its two defeats in September in Yuma.
Yuma Catholic's opponent this time is a school with some history in the sport. Not ancient, but not recent either. Round Valley (12-1), the No. 4 seed, qualified opposite Yuma Catholic by upending No. 1 seed Arizona Lutheran, 28-22. Round Valley has won or shared six football titles in its history. The last one was a shared crown with Snowflake in 1985. Prior to that the Elks won championships in 1966, 1970, 1971, 1979 and 1980. They've been runner-up three times — 1968, 1969 and 1984. Yuma Catholic and Round Valley have three common opponents — St. Johns, Tempe Prep and Arizona Lutheran. Both were 3-0 against the common foes.
No. 3 seed Yuma Catholic (10-2) is no surprise entry in the final. The Shamrocks have been one of the most consistent D-V (2A) teams in recent years, posting a 77-13 record since 2007 under current coach Rhett Stallworth. All seven of those seasons Yuma Catholic has won at least 10 games and reached the semifinals or better each of the last five years. Round Valley is 22-14 under former St. Johns standout Marcus Bell, now in his third season as head coach.
A strong schedule and potent passing attack has been critical to Yuma Catholic's success. Of its 12 opponents, eight qualified for the playoffs — Tempe Prep, Thatcher, Northwest Christian, Arizona Lutheran, River Valley, Bourgade, San Tan Foothills and St. Johns. The Shamrocks losses are to Thatcher and Northwest Christian, each by a touchdown.
Second-year starting quarterback Jagan Cleary has followed up a solid sophomore season (2,244 yards and 29 TDs) with a slightly more productive junior campaign (3,109 yards, 28 TDs). Cleary warmed up for the final with his best game of the year. He completed 25 of 29 passes for 483 yards and three TDs in the semfs. Cleary has plenty of options. Six receivers have caught 17 passes or more this season. The leader is versatile junior Carter Rodriguez with 48 catches for 937 yards and 10 TDs. Other targets are Andre Cabralles, Seth McKinney, Matt Pistone, Ricky Hampton and Donovan Rooks. Rooks is at the low end with 17 receptions, but they've covered 511 yards and accounted for five TDs. Four of those TDs came in the first two two playoff games. Rooks returned from injury in time for the playoffs and has missed five games.
Rodriguez is the team's leading rusher with 816 yards and 15 rushing TDs. He is complemented in the backfield by McKinney (441 yards rushing and 5 TDs).
Round Valley is married to the ground game and has a defense that's been better than sturdy. The three-pronged rushing attack is led by halfback Ethan Workman, who cracked the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the semifinal win over Arizona Lutheran. Workman has 1,,135 yards and 13 TDs. Quarterback Nate Gutierrez passed he 900-yard mark in the semis and has scored 16 TDs. Backfield mate Brodee Bell has another 670 yards rushing. Round Valley rarely throws, with Gutierrez averaging six attempts a game. Gutierrez has passed for 15 TDs, nine of those to top receiver Cade Moring on the rare occasions the Elks throw. Gutierrez's other favorite target is Tanner Bingham.
Defensively Round Valley has wreaked havoc on opponents in postseason. The Elks forced three turnovers in the quarterfinal win over Tempe Prep and blocked four punts. In beating ALA, they limited the Coyotes to 22 points, — 26 fewer than its seaon average of 50 and its second lowest point total of the season. The Elks have allowed eight points a game.
Yuma Catholic is led on defense by linebacker Moisis Barcenas, defensive end Pistone and lineman Marco Pericone. Barcenas leads the team in tackles, Pistone has 11.5 sacks and Pericone 10 of the 44 sacks the Shamrocks have collected. Yuma Catholic has allowed 15 points a game, 49 in its playoff wins over San Tan Foothills, St. Johns and Thatcher.