PRESCOTT - Despite suffering through close losses to Cave Creek Cactus Shadows and Phoenix Sandra Day O'Connor, respectively, over the past two weeks, the Prescott High School football team still hopes to finish the 2011 season strong.
For their homecoming game tonight at Bill Shepard Field, the Division II No. 34-ranked Badgers (2-4 overall, 1-1 section) play host to No. 37 Phoenix Barry Goldwater (1-5, 1-4) in a D-II, Section III clash. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
PHS plans to rebound after having lost its last two games by a combined seven points.
On Sept. 23 at Cactus Shadows, the Badgers succumbed 21-15. Last week at home, Prescott fell 7-6 to O'Connor in a contest that PHS coach Steve Moran said his team probably should have won.
The Badgers trailed 7-0 for most of the game until they finally reached pay dirt early in the fourth quarter on a touchdown run from junior tailback Brady Mengarelli. But they failed to convert the extra point on a bad snap, which ultimately cost them a chance at overtime.
"We dominated the game in every aspect of it, except on the scoreboard," Moran said. "I was disappointed we lost. But in regards to the effort of the kids, they did what I asked them to do all week long, and they did that on Friday night. I was pretty happy with their play."
Badgers senior lineman Marvin Pitts said the O'Connor contest was tough to stomach because the offense was making plays but simply couldn't score.
"We'd get down there (in the red zone) and mistakes would happen, and we wouldn't be able to finish," Pitts said. "But we are progressing each week. It's just about coming out here (in practice) and getting the work done."
Thanks to those setbacks, the Badgers are now a long shot to qualify for the D-II state playoffs, even if they win their last four games.
Next week, Prescott heads to D-IV Cottonwood Mingus (3-3) before hosting D-II Kingman (1-5) Oct. 21 and ending the regular season at D-I Glendale Mountain Ridge (2-4) Oct. 28.
"We have an outside chance of getting in (the playoffs), even if we win out," Moran said. "I'm not ruling us out mathematically, because I don't quite understand how they (Arizona Interscholastic Association) gauge this whole thing."
If the Badgers - who have scored a total of 99 points through six games - can shore up their deficiencies on offense, they could piece together a nice finish and gain momentum heading into the off-season.
Moran said the key for Prescott is putting points on the board early in the first half - something the team hasn't had success with this fall.
This week, the coach installed new wrinkles in the offense, including some wildcat formations with the speedy Mengarelli at QB.
"I probably need to get the ball into his hands a few more times than I have," Moran said of Mengarelli. "I've also got him rolling out and throwing the ball now."
Mengarelli said he feels more comfortable at tailback than under center, because he thinks senior QB Brad Hall does a decent job, but he's OK with occasionally running the wildcat.
"We trust our offensive line," he said. "They'll come together again, and they'll open holes for us."
Nonetheless, Moran said Prescott moved the ball well against O'Connor, and he was satisfied with the o-line and the running game. The Badgers rushed for 205 yards on 44 carries. But Hall completed just 10-of-21 passes for 68 yards and an interception.
For the second straight week, PHS struggled in the red zone, at times failing to convert on third down.
Versus Goldwater, Moran said he expects the Bulldogs' offense "to come out and run the ball right at us." Prescott's defense has been the club's strong suit, though, allowing only 129 points this season, including 35 points in the past three games combined.
"They like to go at people, and they like to come off the edge a lot of times," the coach said of Goldwater. "They're the kind of team that if you let them stay in the ballgame, they'll stay in the ballgame with you. They'll just gain confidence as time goes on."
The Bulldogs line up in a 3-4 package on defense. This week in practice, the unit has likely focused on containing Prescott's up-the-middle rushing attack, which did well facing O'Connor.
Goldwater has a couple big boys on their d-line to assist with that containment, Moran said, so he'd like to spread the ball around the field more.
Prescott is sticking with Hall at QB, even though the wildcat will factor more into the offense.
Backup QB Nick Rock (shoulder), a mobile junior who started in the Badgers' last victory over Phoenix Moon Valley Sept. 16 at home, and starting tight end Jared Tiefenthaler (bone spurs) will not play because of injury. They are listed as day-to-day.
But starting senior defensive back Drew Hicks, who's missed all season due to injury, should return tonight in limited action.
Mengarelli said that no matter the Badgers' struggles, they want to end the season on a high note.
"The goal is to go 4-0 from here on out and to have a lot of confidence going into next year," he said.