Douglas outlasts rival Bisbee to capture The Pick for first time since 2016

DOUGLAS — Hunter Long held The Pick trophy up to the large crowd of Douglas parents and fans on the field wearing his familiar black vest with a gold tie, black jeans and his Bulldogs baseball cap.

His appearance exuded small-town America, mixing a formal look with a sense of down-home goodness.

“I walked the same streets as you,” Long told them, relating to the experience of growing up in Douglas, never taking for granted the sense of accomplishment from what occurred on the new synthetic turf at Bulldog Stadium on Friday night.

The celebration lasted at least an hour after Douglas rallied to beat longtime rival Bisbee 24-21. The 151st meeting between the Cochise County copper-mining communities provided Long and the Bulldogs redemption from recent struggles in the rivalry.

Douglas withstood Bisbee’s last possession after the Pumas started at their 47 with 27.1 seconds left following a punt. Bisbee freshman quarterback Sebastian Lopez ran for 18 yards to set up a 52-yard attempt by accomplished kicker Camden Miller (who made a 46-yarder against Catalina in the opener) that fell short of the goal post with 7 seconds left.

Long, a former Arizona walk-on lineman who was with the Wildcats for the 2014 Pac-12 South championship season, lost 14-6 in the 2010 opener to Bisbee when he was a senior after the Bulldogs similarly placed new turf at their stadium.

“It was a hard-fought game — it was a grinder,” Long recalled of that loss that has stuck with him. “It gave me flashbacks in the first half of this game (trailing 14-6 at halftime) because that’s exactly how it was going. … At halftime, we made our adjustments, and my boys said they wanted to win it for me. I appreciate that so much out of them.

“The work they put in and the work I put in for them, it was all for them. I just want them to cherish this win and enjoy all of it.”

The Pick trophy, a miner’s pick that signifies the copper-mining industry of Douglas and Bisbee, is back in Douglas for the first time since 2016. The Bulldogs beat Bisbee 54-7 in 2018 but that win was forfeited because of the use of ineligible players.

Bisbee defeated Douglas in 2019 in Long’s first season as head coach, and the game was not played last year because of COVID-19 protocols.

Douglas now leads the series 80-64-8 since it began in 1906 at old Don Luis Park in Bisbee. The Pumas kept The Pick in six of the previous nine years the teams played before Friday night.

“It’s been too long,” senior running back Kevin Ybarra said of finally having The Pick at Douglas after Bisbee held it the previous five years. “I’m glad we can bring it back my senior year … We know coach’s history with his senior year on the new turf … it’s kind of nice to override that memory for him.”

Ybarra was one of many Douglas players who played a significant part in the victory rushing for 89 yards on nine carries, including a 25-yard touchdown run with 8:51 left in the third quarter — the Bulldogs’ first offensive score of the game that cut Bisbee’s lead to 14-12.

The score was symbolic of the revitalization junior quarterback Aiden Rodriguez — a budding college pitching prospect for the Bulldogs — brought to the offense in the second half. He did not play in the first half but was told to “get warm.”

“In the locker room at halftime, Coach said, ‘You’re the guy. Just make big plays, make it happen. I did everything I could to help the seniors take The Pick back home,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, who looks like a linebacker at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, played only golf and baseball for Douglas through his first two years at the school. He never played tackle football before talking it over with his dad earlier this year that maybe he should give football a try because of his arm and his size.

Douglas QB Aiden Rodriguez has a significant presence on the football field because of his size and strength (photos by Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“I had a lot of thoughts (of playing football) and then after a long talk with my dad I made the final decision of let’s do it,” said Rodriguez, who started practicing with the football team in July. “I never played football before, other than playing 7-on-7’s at the park or playing with my brothers but never anything official.

“The first snap I took (in Friday’s win), it was a little nerve-wracking, but after that first handoff, I settled down … and just let the guys do what they needed to do.”

Rodriguez completed his first attempt, a 7-yard connection with senior Francisco Corrales, and bulldozed his way to two 1-yard touchdown runs, one of which was set up by his 28-yard pass to Emiliano Berthely.

Douglas was in plenty need of a boost after falling behind 14-0 with 9:34 left in the second quarter to Bisbee and its athletic and durable junior running back Diego Chavez, who rushed 30 times for 140 yards.

At that point, the Bulldogs had only a three-and-out and a lost fumble on the second play of their next possession.

Chavez’s 23-yard scoring run culminated a 13-play, 86-yard drive on Bisbee’s opening possession of the game that consisted of only runs by Chavez, Lopez, Geoffrey Gribble and David Chapman.

After the Douglas fumble, Lopez’s 13-yard scoring run put Bisbee ahead 14-0.

The Bulldogs, beset by numerous penalties, showing the effects of playing only their second game in two years because of COVID-19 protocol wiping out all but one game last year, fumbled the ball away on their next possession at the Bisbee 18.

“It just takes motivation to keep going on and on,” said Corrales, a senior who had four rushes for 47 yards, including runs of 22 and 12 yards in the second half.

Hunter Long talks to the Douglas crowd after the big win and a close up look of The Pick (Photos by Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The jolt Douglas needed was Berthely’s interception off a screen-pass attempt — Bisbee’s first pass of the game — and return of 24 yards with a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-6 with 5:12 left in the first half.

After a Bisbee punt, Douglas drove to the Bisbee 6 but the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs with 4 seconds left before halftime, capping a frustrating half.

“We knew we kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Ybarra said. “We knew we could beat these guys … and Coach (Long) comes in with motivational speech in the locker room and we came out and played the way we were supposed to play.”

His 25-yard touchdown run capped a six-play, 84-yard drive that started the second half with Rodriguez behind center.

On their next possession, the Bulldogs fumbled the ball away at their 24, but Douglas got the ball back on the very next play when Corrales scooped up a bad exchange on a handoff and ran the ball 20 yards to the Bisbee 5.

Douglas lost a yard on the first play but Vicente Cardona, who rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries, ran 5 yards to the 1 before Rodriguez powered his way into the end zone to put Douglas ahead 18-14 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.

Bisbee was again forced to punt and Rodriguez engineered a nine-play, 73-yard scoring drive capped by his 1-yard run to give Douglas a 24-14 lead with 8:50 remaining. Rodriguez completed both of his passing attempts in the drive for 36 yards and Corrales had his 22-yard run.

The Pumas responded behind a 45-yard pass from Lopez to Chapman that set up Gribble’s 7-yard touchdown run with 6:25 left to cut the lead o 24-21.

After a Douglas punt, it appeared Bisbee’s last gasp was a pass intercepted by Joshua Carrillo with 1:27 left in the game.

But Bisbee used its timeouts and the Pumas’ defense forced Douglas to punt.

Bisbee took over at its 47 with 27 seconds left. Lopez had an 18-yard run that set up Miller’s 52-yard field goal try to force a tie and potential overtime.

The Bulldogs went into victory formation on the last play and all that was left was the shouting from the celebration of bringing The Pick back to Douglas.

Former Arizona walk-on lineman Hunter Long is in his third year at his alma mater Douglas (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Long likened the frenzied celebration to that of when he was on Arizona’s sideline watching Anu Solomon connect with Austin Hill for a last-second Hail Mary pass that beat Cal at Arizona Stadium in 2014.

“This is a crazy feeling, growing up here in this community, this is <em>the</em> game,” Long said of the Battle for the Pick. “To bring this one home is a really good feeling. It brings me back to the Hill Mary when he had the white-out back at the U of A, but this was a crazy game. Our guys worked hard.

“It’s a sweet feeling to bring it back.”

In their next games Friday, Douglas travels to Safford (3-0) while Bisbee (2-1) makes the trip to Sequoia Pathway (2-1).

NOTE: Bisbee coach Brian Vertrees did not attend the game because of a one-game suspension by the AIA for walking on the field last week during an incident involving Miami.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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