YUMA - The No. 14 San Tan Foothills football team was right with No. 3 Yuma Catholic for a quarter.
Then came the Shamrock air assault.
Yuma Catholic scored three touchdowns in less than two minutes in the second quarter to turn a close game into a rout and the Shamrocks beat the visiting Sabercats 57-6 in the first round of the Division V playoffs on Saturday night at Ricky Gwynn Stadium.
Junior quarterback Jagan Cleary finished 13 for 20 with 322 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in just more than two quarters of play. Ten times in the night, Cleary connected with a receiver for 20 or more yards.
"Donovan (Rooks) on the backside, he did a good job getting open with a lot of double moves," Cleary said of his wide receiver. "A lot of stuff up the middle, just reading the safety. We go with what the defense gives us. Obviously it was an aerial attack tonight."
Rooks, who has had a quiet season from missing several weeks with an ankle injury, had four catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Carter Rodriguez had three catches for 91 yards and a touchdown and junior tight end Matt Pistone had three catches for 69 yards.
San Tan Foothills coach Rodger Schenks said the Sabercats (8-3) have faced throwing teams this year but still had problems adjusting to the Shamrocks' passing game.
"We worked on it all week," Schenks said of the passing defense. "The speed was a little different than what we're used to and saw on our scout team. It's a good program but nothing we haven't seen."
Yuma Catholic (9-1) will host No. 6 St. Johns, which beat No. 11 Williams 21-0 in the first round, at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Rodriguez, who is the Shamrocks' leading rusher, only had one carry for three yards – a conscious effort by Yuma Catholic coach Rhett Stallworth to limit the physical damage done to his backs in the first round.
"I tried to keep the backs healthy," Stallworth said. "They can't take a beating yet. We're going to have to run the ball next week so if we could get away with not running the ball, let's get away with not running it."
For the Sabercats, junior running back Tyler Wilson finished with 17 carries for a game-high 103 rushing yards and scored the only San Tan touchdown – a 1-yard run in the closing moments of the game. Sophomore back Saige Waxter added 18 rushes for 67 yards.
After recovering the opening kickoff – one of four onside attempts by the Shamrocks – San Tan marched the ball all the way to the Yuma Catholic 20 but a pair of false starts killed the drive and it eventually turned the ball over on downs.
In the Shamrocks' second possession of the game and facing a third-and-23, Cleary found Rooks down the left sideline for a 44-yard touchdown, giving the Shamrocks an 8-0 lead after the first quarter.
Then, in a blink of an eye, the Shamrocks were up four touchdowns.
Cleary found Rooks for a second time, this one for 40 yards, for a touchdown with 10:11 left in the second quarter. After Shamrock sophomore Alex Olsen recovered the onside kick, Cleary hit Pistone for two deep passes then Marco Perricone, usually a defensive lineman, plowed into the end zone on a 2-yard dive.
"I was excited but I just wanted to get things done, the coach told me before I left the sideline that I better not screw it up," Perricone said with a laugh.
On the next Sabercat possession, Olsen intercepted a pass into the flat by quarterback Malik Wolf and took it 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Shamrocks a 29-0 lead with 8:38 left.
"When it hits, it hits," Stallworth said of the wave of touchdowns. "Once we get that going, it can be a lot sometimes and you can get three, four, five in a row like that."
"You hate to say it, but we're a young football team," Schenks said. "When you come to playoff time, you have to keep your head. I don't know how many penalties we had, but when you have that escalating and escalating and our young kids don't know how to react to that – especially in the playoffs."
Yuma Catholic scored its second half touchdowns on a 1-yard run by junior Moisis Barcenas, a 1-yard run by junior Caleb Cheung and a 25-yard interception return by freshman Julian Aitkin with less than 10 seconds to go in the game.
Coming into the game, Stallworth said he wanted to stay healthy and come away with a win. While offensive tackle Braxton Esqueda went down with an apparent hip injury in the second quarter, Stallworth was happy this year wasn't the first season his Shamrocks lost in the first round of the state tournament.
"We wanted to do some things and protect some people and not show other things and we were able to do that."