CASA GRANDE — Casa Grande opened up its playbook against Lake Havasu, and the results were spectacular.

Casa Grande (1-1) went on top early when quarterback Angel Flores connected for a 68-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Garrett on the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage. Lake Havasu (0-2) answered back with three minutes left in the first quarter when Donny Fitzgerald threw a 5-yard TD to Aaron Bracamonte to tie the game 7-7.

Those were the first and last points the Knights would score.

Casa Grande never looked back, scoring 45 unanswered points in a standalone Thursday night game which was also the home opener for the Cougars.

Flores scored five total TDs (three pass, two rush) and was 7 of 10 for 141 yards to go along with 93 rushing yards. Running back RJ Keeton also had a big game, rushing for 149 yards and three scores on just eight carries. Garrett caught two passes for 90 yards.

Even though he had five touchdowns, Flores was disappointed in himself for two turnovers in the first half. One was an interception on a slant pass that was picked off by Isaiah Soto. He also lost a fumble on a run.

“Everyone really did good in the second half,” Flores said. “The first half, I put that all on me. Two turnovers, I really put that on myself ... I was just hesitant and wasn’t getting it done in the first half. But my coaches talked to me and they really helped me out, and I just went out there (in the second half) and had fun and ended up with the W.”

Casa Grande coach Jake Barro agreed there was hesitancy from Flores in the early going, partly because they were trying out new plays. But he was very pleased with how his quarterback played in the second half.

“Second half was totally a 180,” Barro said. “He just flipped it and did a great job. He was seeing his reads, the timing was good, pulling the trigger — everything was good in the second half.”

Luke Luna and Jake Thomas each recovered fumbles for the Cougars defense, which held the Knights to just 178 total yards.

And getting Keeton on the field for the first time this season provided a big spark, as he broke two runs over 50 yards in the first half, including a 53-yard touchdown. Keeton missed last week’s game against Tucson Salpointe Catholic with a strained Achilles tendon.

“It sucks that we didn’t have him last week; it would have made a huge difference,” Barro said. “You can’t go back (in time), but he was feeling great after the game ... so hopefully this injury doesn’t linger and he stays healthy the rest of the way because he’s a big weapon for us.”

Lake Havasu coach Karl Thompson said his team is young and finding its way with just 11 seniors on the roster. And a tough early schedule makes things even more challenging.

“Our first three games we know were going to be a bear,” he said. “Casa Grande’s done a great job since the last time we faced them in 2015 (a 30-14 playoff win for Lake Havasu) ... coach Barro is moving them in the right direction.”

Fitzgerald completed 11 of 18 passes for 92 yards and a TD and rushed for 37 yards. Evan Smith ran the ball six times for 30 yards. The leading receiver for the Knights was Quinton Anderson, who had three receptions for 38 yards.

“We’re still learning and doing and trying to figure out (things) with a lot of changeover for me. There’s a lot of changeover in staff,” Thompson said. “But you know what, our kids don’t quit. We get every ounce out of them the whole way through.”

Thompson added Thursday was a “very long day” that started with the team leaving Lake Havasu at 5 a.m. Despite the taxing travel, he said it was a good bonding experience for his players.

Along with his 68-yard TD to Garrett, Flores also threw two touchdowns to Anthony Flores — a 20-yard score in the third quarter and a 12-yard strike in the fourth. Flores said it feels great to be back on the field competing again after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the season by nearly six weeks.

“It’s everything,” he said, smiling. “I’m so grateful for this ... this is all I’ve been playing since I was little, so I’m just so grateful and thankful for everything.”

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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