BENSON — It was the host Bobcats who flexed their muscle on the gridiron Friday in a showdown battle with Bisbee for 2A San Pedro Region supremacy.

Jace Barney ran for three touchdowns, Carson Barney added two more and D’Ondre Villalobos scored another to lead Benson to a 44-18 triumph before a large and raucous homecoming crowd at the Jerry P. Lee Athletics Complex here.

The Bobcats drew first blood when Carson Barney capped Benson’s 89-yard, eight-play, opening drive with a 7-yard touchdown run that seemed to set the tone for the home team. The PAT attempt failed to give the Bobcats the 6-0 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter. Barney’s touchdown came after the Bobcats’ defensive secondary came up big to foil the fourth-and-five pass play deep in Benson territory after Bisbee received the game-opening kick.

The Pumas hung around and, despite trailing 6-0 at the end of the first quarter, moved the ball in chunks, on the ground and through the air, and kept pace. Bisbee tied the game on “Bug” Molina’s 1-yard plunge with just under eight minutes remaining in the second quarter. The PAT failed to knot the score 6-all.

Benson regained the lead on the ensuing possession with just under three minutes left in the half on Jace Barney’s 3-yard plunge right up the middle. Talon Palmer, on a quarterback keeper, converted the two-point PAT to give the Bobcats the 14-6 lead it would not relinquish.

Bisbee kept on though. Molina, on an option pass after getting the pitch from quarterback RJ Wright, hit receiver Dano Lopez in stride for a 58-yard gain that put the ball inside Benson’s 10. Wright fired a dart on the next play to Manny Amaya alone in the middle of the end zone for the score with 49 seconds remaining in the half. The PAT two-point attempt failed but the Pumas were within striking distance down 14-12 at the half and tt was give and take for the first half and some of the third quarter. Taken in totality, the second half proved markedly different. Benson’s stout offensive and defensive lines overpowered Bisbee, outscoring the Pumas 30-6, including a 22-point, third-quarter outburst that blew the game open and staked the Bobcats to a commanding 36-18 lead headed to the fourth quarter.

Bisbee did hang around awhile and continued to have success moving the ball. After a successful onside kick, two on the game for Bisbee, the Pumas eventually turned the ball over on downs on their first possession of the second half when Villalobos, in the Bobcats’ secondary, broke up the fourth-and-two pass play. Later in the quarter with 8:11 remaining, Jace Barney’s 4-yard TD run increased the Bobcats’ lead 20-12. The PAT attempt failed.

Bisbee responded again after Wright connected with Amaya on a 17-yard TD pass that brought the Pumas closer at 20-18 with just under six minutes in the third quarter. But that would be it for Bisbee at the Bobcats’ defense solidified the offense showed its might as Benson reeled off 24 unanswered points en route to the region victory.

Jace Barney scored on a 16-yard run with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter and Palmer added the two-point PAT for the 28-18 lead. Remington Thola’s fumble recovery gave the Bobcats’ possession on Bisbee’s 22-yard line, setting it up for Villalobos’ 3-yard TD run. Palmer connected with the two-point pass to Diego Nikitas to give Benson the 36-18 lead that held through the end of the third quarter.

Carson Barney delivered the stake through Puma Nation’s collective heart on a 50-yard touchdown run with 7:55 left in the game. Devin Bowling added the two-point PAT for the 44-18 final. Barney’s scoring run came right after an illegal block penalty nullified his long TD punt return.

Carson Barney led all ball carriers with 152 rushing yards on 11 carries as the Bobcats’ bruising power running game gained 374 yards. Jace Barney ran for 101 yards on 16 carries and Talon Palmer completed five of six pass attempts for 64 yards. The Bobcats netted 438 yards total offense.

Defensively, Bowling had 10 solo and an assist for 11 tackles and Brok Determan and Carson Barney each recorded five tackles.

Benson coach Chris Determan was pleased overall by the effort.

“We came out a little slow, gave up some plays early… second half we shored it up and did our job,” said Determan. “We moved the ball well and we stayed on our blocks better in the second half and got better as the game went on so that’s a positive. Our defense played well except for a couple of plays, but offensively we moved the football.”

It does not get any easier for the Bobcats, 6-2 overall and unbeaten at 3-0 in region play, who will make the four-plus hour drive to St. Johns Friday to face the Redskins. St. Johns enters that game 6-2 and 2-1 in the 2A Black Region.

“We have to get better,” said Determan. “I’m sure they’ll be physical… it should be a great game… but the focus this week will be on getting better… we’re looking forward to it.”

Bisbee coach Brian Vertrees said the Pumas noted a full four quarters of intense football is needed against a Benson team.

“We didn’t handle the adversity well in the second half,” he surmised. “We talked all week that it was going to come down to the wire and we played three good quarters of football and we had some breaks go our way, but some of the mistakes we made — in both halves — you can’t make those types of mistakes against a Coach Determan team, they’ll take advantage of it and they did. We needed to match their intensity and we just didn’t do that in the second half.

The defeat dropped Bisbee to 6-2 overall, 2-1 in the San Pedro Region. The Pumas should win out the rest of the way with games against Santa Rita and Tombstone, who defeated Santa Rita on Friday. The Bobcats, meanwhile, end the regular season Nov. 1 at home against rival Willcox with the Seney-Lohman Trophy on the line.

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