Mingus Union High School’s football team pitched a shutout in its Grand Canyon Region opener against Lee Williams High School, winning 38-0 on Friday, Sept. 15.
The Marauders [1-3, 1-0], led by junior running back Alex Nelson’s five touchdowns, picked up their first win of the season, right when things begin to matter most. But more than the offensive output, it was the run-stopping defense that was satisfying.
“We finally were able to shut down the run. We’ve been harping for the last couple weeks — teams have been able to run on us,” Mingus head coach Bob Young said. “This was another team that likes to run the ball and we were able to control the line of scrimmage, so we’re pleased.”
Mingus’ front seven got into the Volunteer backfield throughout the night, totaling nine sacks and a number of tackles for a loss. Nelson, sophomore Claye Griffin and junior Ethan Hayden had a pair of sacks each.
Offensively Mingus did nothing differently other than increase the pace, scoring on its first four possessions to build a 26-0 halftime lead. It received the opening kickoff and drove 65 yards on eight plays, capped by a six-yard score for Nelson on a toss.
The Marauders originally scored on the two-point try, but three penalty flags later it was not converted.
Nelson produced 129 rushing yards on 20 carries and five touchdowns, four rushing and one on a 45-yard punt return in the third quarter.
“I had to step it up. I haven’t been playing how I [was]. I have a lot of potential and these coaches have been pushing me as hard as I can and I’m just doing the best I can for them and for my team so it all goes to them,” Nelson said. “The line has been amazing; they’re young but they’re learning fast and they’re really good when they know what they’re doing.”
Lee Williams’ first series stalled, and the Marauders struck again quickly. It took just five plays, this time junior wide receiver Chaz Taylor catching a 10-yard pass and dodging defenders the final 15 to get in the end zone.
Taylor later caught a 57-yard pass to set up Mingus’ third touchdown, Nelson’s second, to increase the lead to 18-0 with 11 minutes left in the second quarter.
“We’ve been close the last two weeks, both winnable games and it seems like we find ways to lose in the second half,” Young said. “We needed to get ahead and get some confidence, and these young guys need some confidence, so it was nice to jump on them a little bit.”
The Marauders’ momentum continued, helping along by three straight short field situations. Lee Williams’ third punt did not cross midfield, and the Marauders capitalized.
It ended up being their longest drive to that point, lasting more than five minutes. Nelson made it 26-0 when he trotted it in from two yards out, but the team again failed the two-point conversion.
While the offensive line opened up the space, Nelson was also the benefactor of the Volunteer defense keying on senior Tyler Kelly, who rushed for 221 yards the week prior against Cactus High School.
“They were keying on Tyler and if you’re keying on Tyler then Alex is probably the next guy,” Young said. “He had some good runs and I’m sure there’s some good blocks on the perimeter, but he ran hard and protected the ball.”
Despite a second short punt, Mingus failed to score for the first time, turning the ball over on downs after junior quarterback Antoine Zabala was sacked on fourth down.
Nelson’s punt return touchdown opened second-half scoring to make it 32-0.
The Volunteers, pressed to play catch-up, turned it over on downs at their own 29 yard line. A Mingus hold negated Nelson’s first run, but he took another toss from Zabala the distance to complete his handful of scores.
The fourth quarter went scoreless. Marauders junior running back Nick Bloniarz almost saw paydirt but fumbled at the three yard line.
A fruitless Volunteers drive ate nearly six minutes off the clock, and Mingus killed the rest to secure the win.
The Marauders currently sit in second in the region behind Flagstaff High School [4-0, 1-0], the Eagles taking the tiebreaker with a better conference record.
“It feels great. It’s a big relief. Now everyone in the region knows that we’re coming,” Nelson said. “We just knocked a 3-0 team off the board .... Now we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do for the rest of the region.”
Zabala finished 12 for 17 passing for 208 yards and a touchdown. Taylor notched his first 100-yard game, reeling in four catches for 121 yards plus his score. He went down with a right knee injury, and was out for most of the second quarter and entire second half.
The Marauders continue region play at Mohave High School, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22.
Mohave beat Coconino 21-0 in the only other region game on the night.