Walking up to the Division IV state championship, I got my first glimpse of Tucson’s Pusch Ridge as they were gearing up to take on Northwest Christian.
“They kind of look like the Dillon Panthers,” I thought. The thought was strictly regarding their deep, rich blue uniforms and white helmets. Add some yellow trim and a “P” on the side of their helmets, not a stretch for Pusch Ridge, and it would be difficult not to see the featured team from “Friday Night Lights”.
But then I watched them play, and that only confirmed they were the Valley’s team of destiny that the Panthers found themselves as so many times. While they may be another jungle cat, the Lions had a comeback that could be only drawn up by the Panthers’ Eric Taylor.
Unless you’re Pusch Ridge head coach Troy Cropp.
Down 7-0 with about eight minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Lions began a 99-yard drive that led to an eventual score. The highlight being a 40-yard Dakota Haynes run where he chugged along, dragging defenders with him in a way that would make even Tim Riggins swoon.
Then, with a little over a minute left in the game, the Lions defense came up big, recovering a fumble at the Northwest Christian 7-yard-line. They were able to punch it in to go up 14-7 with 1:11 left in the fourth quarter, the first time they had led all game.
They held off a Crusaders last chance, and the new Division IV champs were met by their fans despite the public address announcer’s friendly reminders fans were not to enter the field.
Fat chance that was going to happen.
After a playoff run that was full of comebacks, close calls, and a margin of victory of 13 over the last three games, the Lions-faithful deserved a little time on the turf.
So congratulations to community that made the trek up to Chaparral High School to watch their Lions win their first ever football state championship.
It may not have the same ring as the Tim Riggins-coined phrase, but “Tucson Forever” works, right?