What a fun football season it was! Being out every week to take in the games throughout the season, there were so many incredible moments that left me in awe of some of these players and coaches that make up the high school football landscape in Arizona.
While there are so many incredible things that have happened, like records broken or exciting finishes, I am only one guy and couldn’t be everywhere. So I have narrowed down a list of the top five moments or stories that I witnessed in person from the 2014 season.
5. Jump Starting Mustangs: We start by going all the way back to week one of the regular season where I caught Sunrise Mountain travel to Ironwood. Behind great play of quarterback Andrew Espinosa and running back Jett Robinson, ironwood would race out to a 21-0 lead. Little did us in attendance know that the deficit would ultimately wake up a sleeping giant that would be the Mustangs in 2014. Sophomore quarterback Chase Cord hitting his main targets, his brother Brennon Cord as well as junior Nate Flores would display their explosive attack and they would go on to win that game 38-30.
At the time it looked like a nice little comeback for a team that quite frankly, might not be as good as some predicted before the year. But what it really was, was the awakening of a team that would have a series of firsts which included a first win over Cactus in school history and first section crown since James Carter took over as head coach. Cord and senior safety Tristin Decker would go on to become section players of the year.
Their season came to an end much earlier than they had hoped, but it was a year could have aided in this program turning a corner. And it all started with whatever pep talk coach Carter and his staff gave his team during halftime of that game at Ironwood.
4. Sosinski to Burke: If you ask any player on the Pinnacle football team going into the 2014 season what game they had circled on their calendar with an exclamation by it, it was week three vs Hamilton. Yes, Horizon is their big rival and that game was undoubtedly circled as well but what Hamilton did to Pinnacle in 2013 really stung the Pioneer players. Pinnacle had a shot to beat them at Hamilton in the first of two meetings in 2013 but just came up short. Then Hamilton knocked them out of the playoffs later in the year.
Week three was a shot at redemption for Pinnacle as they faced Hamilton at home. The Huskies got off to a dominating start and it looked like the 2013 playoff game all over again. The Huskies led 34-7 in the third quarter but little did we know at that moment that the game was just starting. Brian Lewerke would come alive and lead the Pioneers on a charge connecting with Cules Rose and Adam Turner for scores, Justin Mandrola would run one in as well and the defense would force a series of consecutive three-and-outs. Pinnacle would turn that 27 point deficit into a 35-34 lead late in the fourth. They looked like they were about to seal the win when Hamilton quarterback James Sosinski stepped up to the line of scrimmage on a fourth and 19 situation with under a minute left from mid-field. Sosinski would just chuck the ball down the field to his main target Kyeler Burke who would make an absolutely incredible catch that put the Huskies deep into Pinnacle territory. Despite missing two extra points earlier in the game, kicker Dylan Brown would step up and nail a 27 yard field goal with about thirty seconds left which would allow the Huskies to escape with an incredible win which would be huge in helping Hamilton them land the number one seed in the playoffs.
I remember talking to Kyeler Burke after the game and he told me that “there was no way that I was going to let us lose after having that big lead.” Here is the play if you did not have the pleasure of witnessing it in person:
3. Hale’s Pick 6: The Chandler Wolves were on their heels as they were in pursuit of an appearance in the division I state championship game. The got out to an incredible 21-0 lead against defending Champion Mountain Pointe but in true champion form, the Pride would then put together a run of incredible plays with defense turning into offense and would outscore Chandler 22-7 from late in the second quarter until the early fourth.
The Pride had a great drive going behind quarterback Garvin Alston with a chance to take their first lead of the game in the fourth down 28-22. Mountain Pointe had all the momentum on the drive and in the game. Alston would drop back to pass and then be hit as he was back to throw and senior linebacker for Chandler Anfernee Hale would pick it off and return it all the way back for a touchdown.
Maybe the Wolves could have still won the game if Mountain Pointe had scored on that drive. But many around Chandler couldn’t help but feel in the moment, that here was the same old Chandler Wolves team that just cant seem to get over the proverbial hump in the big game. Hale’s big play squashed all of those thoughts like a bug for all in attendance. After the game, running back Chase Lucas told be that after the play, the entire team exhaled and “it just increased our confidence ten-fold.” Mountain Pointe head coach Norris Vaughn called it “the play of the game.”
From there, the entire Chandler team got back to the swagger they had at kick-off and all season for that matter, cruised to a win and then their first state championship in 65 years over their Arizona Avenue rival, Hamilton.
2. Don’t Make Kirk Mad: I saw it with my own two eyes that Saguaro superstar Christian Kirk is human after all. But it was how he responded from it that showed why he is so special.
Saguaro was getting a great fight from Williams Field in the first half of the division III state championship game but still lead 21-7 in the second quarter. The Black Hawks would put together a very nice drive capped off by a Fabian Ortiz touchdown run that cut the Sabercat lead to 21-14. On the next offensive drive for Saguaro, it happened. Christian Kirk who was playing running back in the game and had been for all of the playoffs for injured teammate Kamron Johnson, was hit on a run and fumbled the ball which was recovered by Williams Field in Saguaro territory. Kirk fumbling? I had not seen it in four years! Stud Williams Field running back Braedyn Bushman would then run the ball in for a score on the very next play and all the sudden we were tied at 21 just before halftime.
It was then that something woke inside Kirk which could be seen as too violent for the young children and shoot, maybe even the adults in attendance. Kirk would take the ensuing kick-off after the Bushman score and return it 98 yards for a touchdown. On the play, he bulldozed through the Black Hawks players in his way and ran as fast as I’ve ever seen him run. It gave the Sabercats a seven point lead at halftime and marked the beginning of the end for the hopeful Black Hawk faithful who were gearing up for an upset.
Kirk said that was as mad as he has ever been on the football field after that fumble and it showed with the incredible run he had the very next time he touched the ball. Williams Field fans can also blame the ref who stood by him before the kick-off for adding to the fire as Kirk told me this after the game, “After that play, the ref came up to me and said ‘hey number two! Just run baby! So that’s what I did. And I took it all the way to the end zone.”
Kirk in my opinion is the best player I have ever had the privilege of watching in person and my high school football viewing days go back to my childhood as I was born, raised, attended college and now continue to live in Arizona. This season he became the state’s all-time leader in receiving yards and career touchdowns.
1. A W for Coach F: There is no team in the state that dealt with the adversity that the Cactus Cobras faced on the week leading up to their round one playoff game. Long time Cobra coach Larry Fetkenhier, who had not missed a game or a practice in 30 years of coaching, gathered his team early in the week. He told him he was going to be having emergency surgery to remove cancer from his body. Cactus players told me that the entire team was stunned, silent and very emotional. He was not going to be coaching his team in their game that friday night against Sunrise Mountain, a team as mentioned already, beat them for the first time ever earlier in the season.
The Cobras played inspired football which couldn’t even be scripted for a movie. The Cobras got off to a blazing start, would face adversity from a very good Sunrise Mountain team who would battle back to make it close but then the Cobras would pull it all together for a masterful fourth quarter which saw them outscore the Mustangs 21-8 in route to the incredible upset win. Quarterback Preston Guerra played the game of his life down the stretch and said after to me that the motivation he felt from his head coach aided him in putting the team on his back. “He loves the game more than all of us combined and to go out there and have this type of performance, it just wonderful.”
The Cobras would lose their second round matchup to Tempe High but what they accomplished in that game, in that week, despite the loss of the leader of their program, was nothing short of incredible. We have since learned since that amazing night that Coach F is cancer free and he and his family are doing very well.