Legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno once said of preparation and mental toughness, “The minute you think you’ve got it made, disaster is just around the corner.”
For Canyon Del Oro, Catalina Foothills, Ironwood Ridge and Mountain View, the challenge will be to see whether the simple act of attaining a 2008 state playoff berth leaves teams lulled and open to disaster, or if they are hungry and prepared enough to go all the way to the state championship games in the Valley of the Sun.
Along the way will be the sights and sounds of desperation and celebration: the crack of helmet on helmet, cleat-churned turf, bloody jerseys and long-bomb Hail Marys.
Here is a breakdown of the four area teams aiming for gridiron glory in 2008, and some words describing the regular season of each from some of football’s greats.
Canyon Del Oro
“Every time you win, you’re reborn. When you lose, you die a little.” – former Washington Redskins head coach George Allen
The Dorados died a lot last year after losing the 4A-I state championship 23-21 to Scottsdale Saguaro on a last-second field goal. This year’s 9-1 team, highlighted by four shutouts and a fifth-consecutive Sonoran Region title, has given CDO a lot of chances to be reborn. Head coach Pat Nugent and the Dorados are proud of their dominant regular season, but anything short of the title game will not suffice.
“Any time you go 9-1 and win your region you have to be happy; our defense has had a great season and we had some great performances on offense from (running backs) Ka’Deem Carey and Griffin Ronstadt,” said Nugent.
“Our expectations are so high, and if we don’t get back and win it we will be disappointed, but the experience of getting there is great.”
Experienced players are key to going the distance, according to Nugent.
“Our kids know how to practice and understand the pressure of the playoffs,” said Nugent. “(They) also expect to be there and win, which is a great attitude as long as you take it one game at a time.”
The Dorados’ immediate focus will be tested in their home game against the 7-3 Prescott Badgers on Friday. The Badgers are region champs in the 4A Western Sky, winners of six straight and boast that region’s top scorer in junior running back Brian Scates.
“Running into him is like running into an electric shock.” – football legend Red Grange on Bronko Nagurski
So close but so far was the story of this season for the Falcons and first-year head coach Matt Johnson. More than a few teams were shocked by the 6-4 Falcons’ hard-nosed defense, but unfortunately for Foothills, the shock wasn’t fatal in games against Tucson’s top teams. From late September to mid-October, the Falcons lost to CDO and 8-2 Sabino in close games, and just missed upsetting undefeated Santa Rita in the closing minutes, instead giving up a late touchdown to lose 28-21.
On the bright side, although senior quarterback / wide receiver Breck Ashdown is headed to Oregon State University to play baseball next year, he made football look like his first sport, excelling in both passing and catching. Senior running back Steven Dennis proved to be a shifty and speedy threat out of the backfield, using excellent field vision to amass a region-leading 752 yards on the ground. The defense was also outstanding, holding opponents to about 13 points a game.
Next up for Catalina Foothills: an away game against 8-2 Paradise Valley. The Trojans finished a deceptive third in the talent-heavy 4A Desert Sky Region, losing only to undefeated #1 Saguaro and #2 Chaparral.
“I’m the one you need to be worried about.” – Tattoo on Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote’s bicep.
Nighthawk opponents certainly needed to worry about the linebacking duo of seniors Jake Fischer and Ray Cottman in 2008. The twosome finished first and third in the 5A-II Southern Region, respectively, combining for 138 tackles. Along with junior defensive lineman Alex Banales (eight sacks, #2 in region), Fischer and Cottman led a stifling defense. That defense helped the 8-2 Nighthawks outscore opponents 385-106.
Ironwood Ridge scored on the strength of junior quarterback Tyler D’Amore’s arm, which, more often than not, was targeting region-leading senior wide receiver Scott Campbell.
Ironwood Ridge is so talented, head coach Gary Minor thinks two losses is too many.
“We should be at least 9-1,” said Minor. “We gave the (Phoenix) Pinnacle game away and wilted in the 4th quarter (of a 27-24 loss) against Sunnyside.”
Disappointments aside, for Minor, the season has been a special one.
“I just really enjoy this team a lot and relish every day that I get to spend with them,” said Minor. “I wish this season would never end.”
In order to ensure the season doesn’t end on Friday night, the Nighthawks will have to beat 6-4 Phoenix North High School, the second-place team in the 5A-II Metro Region.
Minor and the Nighthawks are ready for the challenge.
“North is very athletic but I think that we’re markedly stronger than they are up front,” said Minor.
And, of course, revenge can be good motivation.
“If we win, we’re looking at a rematch with Sunnyside,” added Minor.
“If we listened to the experts, we shouldn’t even have bothered showing up.” – New England Patriot defensive lineman Willie McGinest on upsetting the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Mountain View (4-6), the only team entering the playoffs with a losing record, will hope to prove it can show up and win on the next level. The Mountain Lions have proven to be vulnerable on defense, allowing nearly 30 points a game. Mistakes and penalties have plagued the offense, contributing to a 19 points per game average.
In spite of the missteps, senior quarterback C.J. Evenson passed for 921 yards, good for second place in the 5A-II Southern Region. Intense junior running back Myles Williams gained another second place region finish for the Mountain Lions in rushing.
On Friday, Mountain View will travel to Avondale to take on 9-1 Westview, second in the 5A-II Desert West Region behind undefeated Arizona #1 Centennial. The Mountain Lion secondary will be tested by the Knights’ region-leading junior quarterback, Jourdan Grandon, and junior wide receiver Eric Ramsey. One good thing about going on the road: Mountain View is 1-4 at home this season, but 3-2 in away games.