After a Jekyll-and-Hyde season, the Maricopa High School varsity football team went out with a bang Friday night.
The Rams put a choke hold on McClintock in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, preventing a field goal that could have won the game for the Chargers. Instead, Maricopa came out with a 21-20 victory.
That gave the Rams a 6-4 record.
“We overcame a ton of adversity for a one-point win,” head coach Chris McDonald said. “And it shouldn’t have been that.
“It took a fumble inside the red zone, another hold inside the red zone on two different drives and then a snafu on the punt for it to be a one-point game.”
McDonald said while he believes the Rams were a better team, the McClintock coaching staff has done a “phenomenal” job with the 6-4 Chargers. Maricopa’s defense had its hands full with McClintock’s senior running back Tyrese Green, but were able to corral him enough to keep the Rams’ game together.
“We had a lot of energy to start off the game, because of course it was Senior Night, and everybody was amped up and ready to go,” senior quarterback Alec Smith said. “And then we kind of hit a couple of rough spots toward the end of the game, but the defense held strong and let us get the W.”
The fact of Senior Night was motivating enough to allow the Rams to shake off two hard-luck losses that pushed them out of playoff contention. At moments, Friday’s game looked like it would follow the same path.
“It was a great game. We got the win, but we just got to finish,” Maricopa senior running back Kemo Akins said. “That was a big key of what we needed to do, just execute and get the job done.”
Akins scored the first of Maricopa’s three touchdowns and the first score of the game just seconds into the second quarter. That lead lasted about three minutes before McClintock tied the score.
However, junior Jacob Cowing took the subsequent kickoff and returned it all the way for a touchdown. Though the point-after kick failed, Maricopa was ahead 13-7.
Just before halftime, the Rams had a messy series that left them at fourth-and-21 and an obvious punt situation. But the hike soared out of arm’s reach, and McClintock landed on it on the 4-yard line. That quickly turned into a touchdown and gave the Chargers the 14-13 lead at the break.
During the time in the locker room, McDonald told his defense if they could hold McClintock to just one more touchdown, the Rams could win the game.
“I think our team, I think Maricopa itself, we’ve always been good at facing adversity. We’ve always been underdogs, no matter what it is,” senior lineman Taylor Belcher said. “Seems like everyone’s out to get us, but we don’t get discouraged by any big-name schools. We always just fight back, no matter what’s happening.”
The Rams battled through a back-and-fourth third quarter. They finally found themselves with first-and-goal on the 1. Then second-and-goal on the 2 and third-and-goal back on the 1, before Smith broke past the Chargers to score. He then ran in the two-point conversion, and Maricopa was on top, 21-14.
The teams traded penalties, punts and turnovers the rest of the game. McClintock scored on an 8-yard run midway through the fourth, but an attempted two-point conversion failed. The Chargers had another chance with 53.4 seconds left and tried for a field goal.
The kick went awry, and the Rams celebrated a game that was a near-perfect synopsis of the season.
“This season was really a test of keep going no matter what the circumstances,” Belcher said. “At the beginning it was just great. We were mowing people over, but we faced some adversity midway through the season. But we just got to keep going. Just got to tell yourself to keep going no matter what.”
“It was a bumpy road – a lot of ups and a lot of downs,” Akins said.
McDonald, too, said the team had to learn to handle adversity in a season that was “a roller-coaster ride.”
“Football’s going to come and go,” the coach said. “But these young men have got to go out into society, and they’ve got to be productive and they’ve got to be able to handle adversity. Some of them still need to learn how to handle adversity a little bit better, and we addressed that.
“I hope that they leave, and 10 years from now they come back and they’ve got families and they’ve got good jobs. That’s more important.”
Members of the team were already putting the season into that rear-view mirror perspective despite a rough season of disappointments.
“Coming out of the Senior Night with a W is just something I’ll always remember,” Belcher said. “I’m thankful for all my underclassmen working their tails off. They know they’ll be here next year, two years from now, working just as hard. I’m proud of my team and everything that we’ve come to do.”
“I love my team,” Akins said. “I really do.”