The Willcox Cowboys looked nearly unstoppable on Friday night against the Valley Lutheran Flames, capturing a 36-6 victory in dominant fashion. Being a small school, the squad is responsible for playing on both sides of the ball, but you’d never know they were in for an entire game with the tenacity and grit they had the entire game.
“We have a small group of kids and they play both ways. It’s just hard work. You know, preparation, doing the same thing over and over and over again,” Willcox head coach Eric Hjalmarson said.
Willcox opened things up with a touchdown on the first drive of the game. Junior quarterback Ayden Fuentes punched the ball in from eight yards out to put the Cowboys on top. The extra kick from Hernandez was good, giving Willcox a 7-0 lead with 5:23 left in the first quarter and giving the defense a momentum boost when taking the field.
Valley Lutheran countered by eating away at the clock while moving the chains down the field, however, a turnover on downs with just under two minutes left in the first put the ball in Willcox’s hands. The Cowboys answered with another solid drive, capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass from Fuentes to senior Alex Mills and a good extra point attempt with 9:10 left in the 2nd.
However, this is where offensive struggles would start to plague Valley Lutheran. On the second snap, a pick-six by junior Cristian Pando and a good extra point from Hernandez gave Willcox a cushy 21-0 lead with 8:09 remaining in the half.
A fumble by Valley Lutheran on the second snap of the following drive would also result in a turnover, recovered around Valley Lutheran’s own 23. All it took was one play, and Pando made his way all the way into the endzone to make the score 27-0.
The remaining seven minutes of the half were scoreless, despite an effort by the Cowboys to extend the lead further, as their field goal attempt was blocked.
After a strong defensive start in the second half, the Cowboys tacked on one final touchdown, with Pando taking it in from 60 yards out. With 4:09 remaining in the 3rd, Willcox had all but solidified a win.
Cowboy defense did allow a touchdown to open up the fourth quarter, but it still was too little too late for Valley Lutheran. Willcox put up one final field goal attempt on the night, which was good, to secure the 36-6 win.
“We tried to make them run the ball, and obviously they did in the second half, they went empty and tried to get the quarterback to do his thing, and we did a really good job of stopping it,” Hjalmarson said.
Offensively, the Cowboys were running through the Flames like bulldozers, crashing into multiple guys and dragging them along as they continued running. They accounted for just around 300 yards of the offensive production, which is a majority of it for the Cowboys.
“I’m really looking to improve with me and my linemen and making more time, so we have more time to get passes off, and just getting faster with those runs,” Fuentes said.
Pando, who was an Ed Doherty Award Nomination Medallion recipient for his performance last week, had another stellar showing, leading the offensive attack while also scoring a defensive touchdown in the victory. Humble in his success, he says it’s all because of his team.
“It’s the linemen, really. I just run the ball. The linemen open up the holes for me, and I just get an open field,” Pando said.
Meanwhile on defense, they were like wrecking balls all night, wreaking havoc on the Flames. At the half, they’d forced Valley Lutheran negative 20 rushing yards. The Willcox defense ended the night allowing around 100 passing yards, and approximately 50 rushing yards, while bagging two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
One of the most incredible things about this Cowboys team, though, is their youth.
“We’re real young. We have some senior linemen, but pretty much everybody that touches the ball is underclassmen. So we’re just gonna try to build upon what we’re doing and build upon what I’ve learned over the years,” Coach Hjalmarson said.
The still undefeated Cowboys (4-0) will prepare to take on North Pointe Prep (0-4) next Friday on the road. While they’ve gotten off to a hot start so far, Coach Hjalmarson said he still doesn’t feel like they’ve really been put to the test yet.
“Our season progressively gets harder. We play North Pointe next week, then we have our first section game with Tombstone. Then we play Pima, and Pima is really good.” Hjalmarson said.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07