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MHS head coach Brandon Harris (right) had a physical confrontation with Central head coach Jon Clanton Sept. 14. Photo by Jeff Hazlett

From the desk of Maricopa High School Principal Brian Winter: This is the response from Coach Brandon Harris regarding the events that transpired at the conclusion of the homecoming football game on Friday, Sept. 14:

“Since being named head coach of our football program, I have been obsessive in my belief that our program should model behavior that is consistent with excellence, good character and high morals. This past Friday, some of my actions weren’t consistent with this. My direct supervisor (AD Jake Neill) instructed me to do certain things at the end of the altercation with Central’s coach, and I did not comply.

“After reflection, I realize that my actions are not consistent with what I have modeled for our coaches and players up to this point. I can’t in good conscience accept that this should be overlooked. I have suspended players this season and sat players – even just last week for conduct I felt was unbecoming. I am just a man, I am fallible, and I make mistakes. I made one last Friday.

“To not hold myself to the same standards I talk about wouldn’t be the right thing to do. I’m as competitive as they come, and I live for matchups like this Friday, because if you are a competitor you want to coach in big games against the best competition possible. So, this is as painful as it can be for me, but as much as it pains me, and the obvious jeopardy it will put our team in, some things are more important than wins and losses – I want to be remembered for how I lived my life.

“I am not going to coach in the Higley game this Friday because of the part I played in Friday night’s incident following the game. I am taking this opportunity to apologize to our Superintendent, Principal, Athletic Director, my colleagues in the greater good for teaching, along with my coaches, players and our city for my conduct. The last thing I want to do is represent us in a negative light.”

The Rams celebrate after a "fluke" touchdown by Logan Taylor (42). Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School football team routed Central, 55-0, in a shortened Homecoming game that ended with a brief brawl that was not instigated by the players.

The Rams scored eight touchdowns as a variety of players off the bench saw action throughout the night. Maricopa became the third team to score at least 50 points on Central High School, which is now 0-5. Maricopa’s record improved to 4-1.

The post-game handshake between coaches Jon Clanton (left) and Brandon Harris wasn’t really a handshake. Photo by Jeff Hazlett

After the Rams went ahead 21-0 in the first quarter on scores by senior Tylen Coleman and sophomore Mister Chavis, Marcopa had the game salted away by the half. Senior quarterback Jordan Huddleston scored on a 12-yard keeper. After suffering one of their worst drives of the season in the middle of the second quarter, Huddleston hit senior Jacob Cowing with a 77-yard pass.

When the Bobcats tried to punt on their next possession, Maricopa senior defensive end Logan Taylor grabbed the ball and took it in for a 10-yard touchdown to give the Rams the 41-0 lead at the break.

The Bobcats came close to getting on the board with a first-and-goal situation on the 4, but the Maricopa defense stopped two runs and two pass attempts.

After the odd sight of senior guard Trey Keel receiving a pass for a first down, backup quarterback Daxton Redfern tossed to Cowing for a touchdown and passed for a two-point conversion. That put the score at 49-0 with 4:38 remaining in the game.

In the last two minutes, Kaireem Moreira took the ball 78 yards for the game-ending touchdown.

But it wasn’t the end of the action, at least for Central head coach Jon Clanton. Eye-witness accounts of the post-game handshake indicated Clanton instead pulled Maricopa head coach Brandon Harris toward him, pushed him, yelled at him and knocked off his hat. Harris allegedly then punched the much-taller Clanton.

While players started shoving each other, the coaches were separated, and Maricopa officials sent the Rams to the locker room.

Clanton later said Maricopa’s actions in running up the score were “classless.” He acknowledged knocking off Harris’s hat, but said, “I don’t throw punches.” The incident will be reviewed by AIA.

Next week, Maricopa jumps into region play by hosting Higley (4-1). The game is Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at Ram Stadium.

Coach Brandon Harris talks to his team after a win at South Mountain High School.

The Maricopa High School Rams won their third football game of the season, but the head coach wasn’t exactly happy about the way it all happened.

In a penalty-laden contest, MHS defeated South Mountain on the road, 23-18. The win improved their record to 3-1, but coach Brandon Harris called the effort “piss-poor.”

Along with missed assignments and inconsistent execution, flags for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct marred the night for Maricopa.

“Disrespecting the game, disrespecting the city of Maricopa, the school, not representing ourselves on the field well,” Harris listed his issues with what occurred. He said it came as a surprise to him and did not reflect the team’s preparations for the game.

The Rams scored on their first possession with a 31-yard run by sophomore Mister Chavis and never relinquished the lead. Maricopa scored again early in the second quarter on a 2-yard run by senior Kaireem Moreira.

The Jaguars turned a fumble recovery into a quick passing touchdown late in the second. After blocking the point-after kick attempt, Maricopa went into halftime with a 14-6 lead.

While the Rams relied more heavily on the legs of quarterback Jordan Huddleston than his arm, the Maricopa defensive line stymied South Mountain’s ground attack. Jags quarterback Roghon Arnold had the ball in the air most of the second half. That included a 16-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Cotton to edge close to Maricopa, 14-12, at the start of the fourth quarter.

Maricopa’s junior kicker Roberto Esqueda kicked a 31-yard field goal to create a little more breathing room. After a Michael Soliz interception near Maricopa’s 15, Chavis took the ball all the way down field to score again with 2:50 remaining in the game.

“Mister Chavis played well tonight,” Harris said. “He did a lot of good things for us.”

South Mountain capped off the game with a long drive that ended in a quarterback keeper for the final touchdown.

The win kept Maricopa on pace with the rest of the 5A San Tan Region, currently tied for third. The Rams return home this week for Homecoming against Central on Friday at 7 p.m. They then start region play with a home game against Higley Sept. 21.

7 | 7 | 0 | 9    — 23
0 | 6 | 0 | 12 — 18

Tylen Coleman carries the ball into scoring range at Apollo. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Digging deep in the fourth quarter, the Maricopa High School football team pulled out a win at Apollo in Glendale Friday night, 27-20.

 The Rams improved to 2-1 on the season.

Though Maricopa took a 13-0 lead early, the Rams had to fight back from a 20-13 deficit.

“In the fourth quarter, we just decided we were going to put our foot in the dirt, and we were going to keep driving,” said senior Tylen Coleman, a standout defensive end and running back for the Rams.

The Rams scored the first time they touched the football. Senior Jacob Cowing grabbed the opening kickoff from the 8 and ran it all the way back for a touchdown. On Roberto Esqueda’s point-after kick, Maricopa went up 7-0 with only 12 second off the clock.

Just seconds into the second quarter, sophomore Mister Chavis scored from the 5, and Maricopa led 13-0.

But the Hawks pull themselves together and started to get their offense firing in the middle of the game. They scored on consecutive possessions to move past Maricopa.

Apollo continued to hold back the Rams throughout the third quarter, then created a 10-play drive that led to a touchdown with 1:15 left in the quarter.

Maricopa’s final drive of the third became its first drive of the fourth. It was capped off by Coleman scampering in from the 35-yard line to tie the score, 20-20.

The Rams took advantage of an Apollo fumble to jump start their final scoring drive. Cowing grabbed a 29-yard pass from Daxton Redfern to score with 7:21 remaining in the game.

The Rams have scored 12 touchdowns through three games. They next play Friday at South Mountain (1-2) in Phoenix. The game starts at 7 p.m.

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Senior Isaiah Crawford takes the ball downfield for the Maricopa Rams.

In a messy, dusty Game 2, Maricopa High School’s football team lost at Millennium, 26-21. That evened the Rams’ record at 1-1. The Tigers took a 12-7 lead over Maricopa in the first quarter. After pushing that to 26-7 in the third, Millennium did not score again. With both offensive lines showing vulnerability, the quarterbacks were under pressure all game and Maricopa coach Brandon Harris began rotating his QBs, Jordan Huddleston and Daxton Redfern, with mixed results. In the third quarter in the middle of a full-blown dust storm, Maricopa used a 70-yard kickoff return by Isaiah Crawford to set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Jacob Cowing. With time running out near game’s end and little official attention to the play clock or game clock, Mister Chavis ran in from the 6 for the final score. Harris told the Rams he was proud of them for never quitting despite being down. Maricopa next plays a non-region game at Apollo Friday at 7 p.m.

Maricopa won a non-league game over McClintock at home Friday. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With a new coach and many untried varsity players, the newest incarnation of the Maricopa High School football team won its first game of the season Friday.

Hosting McClintock from Tempe, the Rams scored first and never gave up the lead, winning 38-21.

Head coach Brandon Harris kept alive his lifelong, first-game winning streak, pointing out it’s the only game all season for which they have four months to prepare.

“I told those kids coming out, ‘We’ve had all this time to prepare, so we got to win,’” Harris said. “And they did. They responded. There was a lot of good things out there tonight.”

That included scoring six touchdowns and a defense Harris described as “lights out.”

There were “early-season errors” and protection issues on the offensive line as Maricopa fans got their first real look at new quarterback Jordan Huddleston, a senior transfer student. Though he had only a few chances to show off his arm, he did pass to senior Jacob Cowing for a touchdown.

“These kids, most of them have never started a varsity football game. Kaireem [Moreira], he never started a varsity football game. Mister Chavis is a sophomore who we moved into that spot. Tylen [Coleman] played defense … so this is his first time carrying the football.”

Coleman, a standout last year on D, played both ways Friday, inflicting touchdowns and sacks on the Chargers.

Moreira put the Rams into the end zone first five and a half minutes into the game. Coleman ran in from the 17 to put Maricopa up 12-0 while still in the first quarter. With the Rams having early special-teams problems, McClintock’s William Roberts was able to juggle and drop a kickoff return and still return it 80 yards for a touchdown to bring the Chargers within five points.

Both teams scored a touchdown apiece in the second quarter, and the Rams went into the locker room leading 19-14.

But Cowing scored on a 15-yard reception and then grabbed a crucial interception to get the ball back. That eventually led to Coleman scoring from the 6-yard line to put Maricopa ahead 31-14. Though the Chargers scored quickly in the fourth, the Ram offense had long possessions, wrapping it up with a one-yard touchdown run by Chavis.

“We’re just trying to develop championship habits,” Harris said. “We showed some tonight, and some not so good.”

This year's MHS Rams include (from left) Trey Keel, Jake Meyer, Jordan Huddleston, Tylen Coleman and Michael Flood. Photo by Victor Moreno

 

There was very little leisure for Maricopa High School football players this summer.

“We call it ‘one heartbeat;’ it’s kind of the analogy we use. We all have to work in concert for it to work.” — Coach Brandon Harris

New head coach Brandon Harris ran practices every morning, five days a week. Many nights were filled by 7-on-7 tournaments. Two weeks before the first day of school, the team left to its annual football camp in Winslow.

The coaches spend more time with athletes than ever before, Harris said, a practice in measuring the team’s pulse on – and off – the field.

MHS head coach Brandon Harris. Photo by Mason Callejas

“We call it ‘one heartbeat;’ it’s kind of the analogy we use,” Harris said of the team’s culture. “We all have to work in concert for it to work.”

When they weren’t running drills, teammates worked in unison fundraising for the program. They were coached by Harris on representing the school and the city well, he said.

The kids reportedly received compliments on their polite behavior during car washes and other engagements where athletes and coaches introduced themselves to the community.

“We are working smart; we’re working hard,” Harris said.

This summer, athletes hit the weight room after their meals – an intake of protein and carbohydrates developed by coaching staff. And while participating in any activity together, Harris only allows uplifting communication between the group.

“We don’t coach from any negativity or fear because fear is very close to hatred and you can’t play well with either one of those feelings,” Harris said.

Harris is an experienced leader on the gridiron, having previously coached championship high school state team sand collegiately.

His goal is to reinvent the Rams, who will sport redesigned uniforms, into a team that not only wins games, but wins in life.

New district Athletic Director Jacob Neill likes the approach.

“If you have a high level of participation and you’re successful in what you’re doing with the kids in your program, it’s going to ultimately have a positive impact on the culture of not just your athletics program but your entire school,” Neill said.

In 2016, Neill left the district after working four years as head basketball coach at MHS. He was the AD and assistant principal of Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley before his recent return to Maricopa.

That experience has lent well to the football program under Harris.

“First of all, he’s a former coach,” Harris said of Neill. “He’s been doing this awhile and he gets it.”

While the Rams work to recreate themselves and improve upon last year’s 6-4 record, the team is also adjusting to a new, competitive region.

Harris said the team had “flashes of spectacular play” against opponents in the 5A San Tan Region during the 7-on-7s this summer.

But Neill and Harris agreed the region will be a great test for the program that is still developing its pulse.

“We are a team that’s loaded with a lot of players and talent, and now it’s just a matter of us putting that talent to use,” Harris said.

MHS Football
All varsity games at 7 p.m.
Aug. 17 vs. McClintock
Aug. 24 @ Millennium
Aug. 31 @ Apollo
Sept. 7 @ South Mountain
Sept. 14 vs. Central
Sept. 21 vs. Higley
Sept. 28 @ Campo Verde
Oct. 5 @ Williams Field
Oct. 19 vs. Casteel
Oct. 26 vs. Gilbert


This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

 

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Photo by Victor Moreno

Maricopa High School football players tried out their summer skills in a 7-on-7 contest against Mesa June 21. Mesa will host the Rams June 28 at 6 p.m. Photographer Victor Moreno shared his photos. Click on photo to enlarge

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The Maricopa Militia. Photo by Victor Moreno

A youth tackle football program is recruiting players age 6-9 for a fall season.

IF YOU GO
What: Militia Speed & Conditioning Clinic
When: June 30, 8-10 a.m.
Where: Copper Sky
How much: Free

The Maricopa Militia is part of the nonprofit National Youth Sports football league. Team manager Joanne Taylor said the team was formed after the disappointment of false starts by other teams that have come and gone.

“Some of our players and coaches have been playing tackle football here in Maricopa for the past four to five years and have had to endure many empty promises, failed leadership, belittlement and discrimination,” Taylor said.

The Militia was conceived as a way to change all that.

The Militia’s home games are played on the Maricopa High School field. Head coach for 7-under and 8-under teams is Josh Taylor, assisted by Dave Taylor, Jay Owens, Ruben Adame and Louie Placencio. If the 9-under team comes to be, another coach will be added. Matt Rivett handles the finances, and team mom is Tara Owens.

“We understand that not every young athlete that plays for us will play high school or college football,” Taylor said. “However, every one of our young athletes will grow up to be a member of a community. This is why we focus on building life skills through football.”

The Militia will host a speed and conditioning clinic on June 30 at Copper Sky Regional Park from 8 to 10 a.m. This free clinic is for current and prospective players to display and build new skills.

The fall season starts July 30.

Militia coaches. Photo by Victor Moreno

Besides learning tackle football, the Militia players are urged to participate in community service.

“Our goal is to perform at least one act of service as a team per season. This past season we assisted the Maricopa Food Bank (located at Santa Cruz Elementary School),” Taylor said. “This was a great opportunity for us to support and give back to our community. While at the Food Bank, our players were able to sort and prepare new and donated plastic bags to be filled with vital canned goods and grocery items for the families in need in our community.” See photos below.

Taylor said community service helps the players feel good about themselves through helping others. It also engages them in the community and creates bonds outside the football field.

“That event had a profound impact on our team, because they saw how volunteering can change our lives and the lives of others,” the team manager said. “It also provides a sense of purpose and teaches life lessons.”

The Militia play teams from all over the Valley. The team motto is “Honor, Strength and Courage.”

“We hope to start with that creed and build the confidence, responsibility, respect, discipline, service and team work in each player through our program,” the coach said. “It all starts and ends with fun and helping the players understand and develop a love for the game of football.”

Organizers chose the name Militia to echo the military comparisons intrinsic to football.

“Another reason we selected Militia is that we also really wanted to reflect our patriotism for this great country we live in,” Taylor said. “We have adopted an Americana theme with stars and stripes on our uniforms. With the name Maricopa Militia, we would like to draw from the meaning that helped in the creation of America during the Revolutionary War. We also pay tribute to the men and women who serve our country today.”

Being part of NYS allows the team to keep its costs down and keep the program affordable. Taylor said the team also benefits from “generous donations” from Maricopa businesses like Water and Ice and Native Grill & Wings. This year’s goal is to play in the NYS National Tackle Championship tournament in San Diego.

https://www.facebook.com/MaricopaMilitiaAZ/

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Brandon Harris. Submitted photo

Maricopa High School named its new head football coach this week, pending board approval.

District Athletic Director Brian Winter confirmed Brandon Harris, 47, will lead the varsity team in the upcoming school year.

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board will officially vote to approve the new hire March 28. Harris replaces Chris McDonald, who was recently hired as Basha head football coach.

“Brandon is an excellent communicator and motivator,” Winter said. “He had a very successful and extensive coaching career at both the high school and collegiate level. He will be a great addition to MHS.”

Harris’ resume includes high school head coaching positions in Arizona, New York and most recently, Florida’s University School of Southeastern University.

He’s held administration and assistant coaching positions at Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler, was passing game coordinator at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix and offensive coordinator at Desert Vista High School, among others.

Harris played for University of Idaho and later professionally with the Sacramento Surge in the World League of American Football.

Harris has co-owned RedLine Athletics training facility in Chandler since 2015.

An Arcadia resident and Southern California native, Harris is no stranger to Maricopa. He owned a home in The Villages in 2007 before he relocated to Buffalo, New York, for a head coaching position at Canisius High School, which won a state championship in 2009.

He now plans to move back to Maricopa.

“(MHS) just needs someone that really wants to be there, and I want to be there,” Harris said.

The new head coach began watching tape and evaluating his new players recently. Harris said he wants to work with the existing culture at MHS to continue creating excitement on Friday nights.

Most importantly, he said, is his goal of encouraging the personal growth of his players.

“I’ve coached and been part of six state title championship teams, and three of them are my own as head coach” Harris said. “We’re going to do that, but they need to win in the classroom, win in the hallways, win in their own personal life, and then winning will take care of itself.”

 

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Named 5A Metro First Team from Maricopa High School were (from left) Kemo Akins , Tylen Coleman, Jacob Cowing and Edward Donaldson.

Nine Maricopa High School football players have been named All-Region in recent 5A Metro voting.

Wide receive Jacob Cowing, a junior, and senior running back Kemo Akins were named First Team, as were junior defensive lineman Tylen Coleman and senior linebacker Edward Donaldson.

Cowing led 5A Metro in receiving yards with 1,081. He scored 13 touchdowns for 78 points, tied for fourth in the region. Akins was third in rushing yards, with 1,040. His 18 touchdowns and 108 points were third in Metro.

Coleman collected by far the most sacks in the region with 13.

Named to 5A Metro’s Second Team were seniors Taylor Belcher, Zion Saole, Brenden West and Baylen Redfern and junior Stefon Nelson.

MHS volleyball team at Mesquite for play-in. Photo by Jennifer Ford.

Except for one athlete, Maricopa High School wrapped up its fall sports season last week.

Evelyn Corliss, a sophomore runner on the cross country team, ran a personal best 21:37 in the 5K at the Division II Section IV meet Friday. She finished 15th, which qualified her for the Arizona State Championships, which are Nov. 4 at Cave Creek Golf Course. The top 25 runners in each section advanced along with the qualified teams.

“She ran her heart out,” coach Heather Abel said. “She really deserves it.”

Senior Alondra Borbolla Gonzalez finished 27th in 22:36. Freshman Alyssa Frarck was 69th in 25:39. Sophomore Juni Hall was 74th in 26:42. Freshman Kaitlyn Crean was 84th in 30:07, and junior Hayley Mase was 85th in 30:29. Among the boys, junior Alec Kramarczyk was team leader in 31st place in 18:27. Senior Chet Carroll, who won the Maricopa Mud Run the following day, ran 70th in 20:01. Freshman Jovanni Fentes was 79th in 20:53. Sophomore Carlos Chavez ran a personal best 20:55 to finish 80th. Junior Diego Riva was 84th in 21:48. Junior Orion Martin was 91st in 23:19. Senior Gio Hernandez was 92nd in 23:20.

Thursday, the volleyball team, ranked 20th in 5A, competed in a play-in game for a chance to qualify for the state tournament. The Rams fell to No. 13 Mesquite in three, 25-14, 25-18, 25-18. That ended their season with an official overall record of 12-7 and second place in 5A Metro.

Friday, the MHS football team ended its season at home by defeating McClintock in a down-to-the-wire contest. This season, junior Tylen Coleman led all of 5A in sacks with 12, a total was 10th across all divisions in the state. Junior Jacob Cowing was second in 5A overall and first in 5A Metro in receiving yards with 1,081. Senior Alec Smith was third in 5A Metro in passing yards with 1,632, which was 10th in 5A overall. A running quarterback, he had 2,030 total yards. Senior Kemo Akins was third in 5A Metro in rushing yards with 1,040, 17th in all of 5A.

 

Photo by RaquePhoto by Raquel Hendricksonl Hendrickson

 

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.”

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Photo by Anita McLeod

Sequoia Pathway Academy’s varsity football team moved to 4-3 on the season with a victory in its final home game Friday. The Pumas defeated Heritage Academy-Laveen, 14-6. The school also celebrated Senior Night for the young team. SPA is scheduled to finish its season Oct. 27 against Harvest Prep at Desert Sun Stadium. The Pumas are in second place in the Fiesta Conference of the Canyon Athletic Association.

 

Isaiah Crawford takes down Kellis' Ricky Luna in a Maricopa loss Friday. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson.

In a defense-heavy 5A Metro contest at Kellis in Glendale, Maricopa High School lost the penultimate game of its football season in nail-biting fashion, 16-14.

The Cougars’ penchant for two-point conversions was the difference in the game Friday night when Maricopa could not pull off a last-second field goal. The Rams, feeling the pressure to win to have hopes of reaching the playoffs, were inconsolable afterward.

“The defense played their butts off,” head coach Chris McDonald said. “They played extremely hard. We left them on the field too much in the first half.”

Junior tackle Tylen Coleman had three sacks in the first half, and senior Zion Saole threw in another.

The teams battered on each other in the first quarter, frustrating both offenses. Kellis drew first blood with a 27-yard touchdown pass followed by a two-point conversion. The Rams, meanwhile, struggled to get out of their end of the field.

“The field position was horrible for us in the first quarter,” McDonald said.

The second quarter, however, started out with an interception by junior Jacob Cowing, which set up Maricopa’s first scoring drive. At the end of a messy possession, Cowing took a pass from senior quarterback Alec Smith 21 yards for the score.

Trailing by a point, the Maricopa defense continued to thwart the Cougars, overcoming a fumble and forcing the ball over on downs twice.

The Rams trailed the Cougars 8-7 at the halftime break.

With Kellis clamping down on Cowing and running backs Kemo Akins and Cam Sanders, Smith started breaking loose for long yardage in the third quarter. That threat helped Maricopa open up its offense on a long drive in the third that ended with Akins scoring from the 16 with 1:46 left in the quarter to go ahead 14-8.

Though penalties increased dramatically in the fourth quarter, Maricopa seemed to be finding its rhythm and taking control. But an interception at the 47 with 1:29 left in the game ultimately sank the Rams. It turned into a scoring drive, and suddenly Kellis was ahead 16-14 with just 54 seconds left.

Maricopa labored to get within field goal range. With just 2 seconds left and the Rams at third-and-15 at the 32 yard line, the field goal unit could not execute, and the game ended.

“The thing is, when you count on Cowing so much, they’re able to stack the box and then they double Cowing,” McDonald said. “We just need some other guys that can step up.”

Maricopa (5-4) closes out the regular season Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. by hosting McClintock (6-3) for Senior Night. As part of Red Ribbon Week at MHS, there will be a balloon release and other activities.

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Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School sports could play teams closer to home next year if granted approval in a different 5A region next month.

Current conference standings for future 5A San Tan region football teams
Casteel (3A): 7-0
Higley (4A): 7-1
Williams Field (5A): 6-2
Campo Verde (5A): 5-2
Maricopa (5A): 5-3
Gilbert (6A): 3-3
Tempe (4A): 1-8

The Arizona Interscholastic Association set new placements for schools on Oct. 17 based on enrollment. MHS will maintain their 5A status, but would move into the San Tan region with Campo Verde, Casteel, Gilbert, Higley, Tempe and Williams Field.

Already in 5A San Tan is Williams Field and Campo Verde. Maricopa is currently in 5A Metro. Schools moving up conferences would be Tempe (4A), Higley (4A) and Casteel (3A). Gilbert would move down from 6A.

MHS Athletic Director Brian Winter said although student-athletes would be able to stay in class longer as away-game travel times would shorten, they would also be facing off against tough competition.

“Most of the teams proposed for the San Tan Conference/Region have extremely strong athletic programs, and so in certain sports we will be very challenged,” Winter said.

Predicted by Winter to be one of the most tested MHS programs would be Rams Football.

“Many of the teams in the proposed region have very strong, established football programs,” Winter said.

Schools have until Oct. 25 to appeal division placements. Winter did not indicate whether MHS desires to pursue an appeal.

MHS Football Coach Chris McDonald could not be immediately reached for comment.

The AIA will publish final division placements Nov. 15.

Kemo Akins tries for extra yardage at Sunnyslope, where he served as running back and wide receiver. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

 

An episodic game that switched from slow-starter to barn-burner to heart-burner, the Maricopa High School football team lost a region game to Sunnyslope on Friday, 33-20.

After the Rams had fought to a tied score and seemed destined for overtime, the Vikings scored 13 points in the final 10 seconds. The loss moved Maricopa’s record to 5-3. The Rams are 1-2 in the 5A Metro region and in fourth place.

Maricopa had its hands full with Sunnyslope running back Xamoi Penn and wide receiver Tanner Hill. They did not help themselves with a sluggish start. To pile it on, the Rams’ top receiver, Jacob Cowing, nursed an injured hand much of the game.

“It took us a little bit to get going,” MHS head coach Chris McDonald said.

When the Rams did get going in the second quarter, they were already trailing 10-0. A strong kickoff return to the 31-yard line by senior Longman Pyne started an impressive scoring drive of less than two minutes. In the middle of it, senior Kemo Akins had a 35-yard run and, at the end of it, Akins grabbed a toss from senior quarterback Alec Smith and ran in from the 7.

The Ram defense completely stymied the Vikings in their next, brief possession. The Maricopa offense looked like it was in trouble, too, as time ran down and a sack put them at third-and-20. But Smith passed to Akins, who tumbled in for the score and the 14-10 lead at the half.

Sunnyslope used Penn to score from the 15 and take back the lead near the end of the third quarter. Having trouble getting past MHS defenders Edward Donaldson and Tylen Coleman near the goal line, the Vikings were in easy field-goal range. Instead they opted to go for the touchdown with a pass attempt.

Injury notwithstanding, Cowing made them pay for that, grabbing the ball out of the air and running all the way back to Sunnyslope’s 15-yard line. Soon after, senior running back Cameron Sanders took the ball in from the 10 to put Maricopa on top 20-17.

The Vikings answered with a field goal with 1:40 left in the game. The Rams turned the ball over on a controversial call after it seemed forward motion had ceased, and that set up Sunnyslope’s scoring drive, capped by Penn rushing for a touchdown on third down. It gave Sunnyslope the 27-20 lead with 10 seconds left.

That left Maricopa with a desperation play with 2 seconds remaining, a lateral that backfired when the ball got away. That would have ended the game in a loss for Maricopa anyway, but Sunnyslope’s Maurice Hayes picked up the ball and scored with no time left.

McDonald said he was disappointed in the Rams’ play.

“We thought we had a good game plan, and I think right out of the gate they (Sunnyslope) started playing harder,” he said.

Maricopa may be feeling the effects for a while. Cowing, who easily leads 5A Metro in receiving yards, may have broken a bone in his hand.

Next up for Maricopa is a region game at Kellis (5-3, 0-3). The game starts at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at 8990 W. Orangewood Ave., Glendale.

Maricopa junioPhoto by Raquel Hendricksonr Jacob Cowing drags half the Apollo defense in Friday's home contest. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A field goal and a safety were all the scoring difference as the Maricopa High School football team dropped a home game Friday to 5A Metro rival Apollo.

The evenly matched teams both had ups and downs in the seventh game of the season. The Hawks’ pressure on the Rams, offensively and defensively, enabled them to stay just out of reach and take the 33-28 win.

“I felt like we left some plays on the field,” Rams head coach Chris McDonald said.

Both teams had giant, break-away plays for touchdowns followed by drives in which they had no momentum at all. Both defenses had big stops and their share of quarterback sacks, but also their share of breakdowns.

When Maricopa most needed it in the second half, “we just didn’t have any fire power,” McDonald said.

Apollo took special focus on senior running back Kemo Akins, who, with the exception of a huge, 55-yard scoring run, was held to 4 yards per carry. Akins still totaled 124 yards rushing, keeping him in Metro’s top three for running yards with 843 this season.

Junior Jacob Cowing, already well ahead of any other wide receiver in the Metro region, added to his yardage Friday with eight receptions for 212 yards. That included a final-minute, 89-yarder that allowed the Rams to pull within five points of Apollo. In all of 5A, Cowing is No. 2 in total receiving yards (970), and statewide he is No. 3.

Cowing and Akins each scored two touchdowns against Apollo.

Senior quarterback Alec Smith threw for 237 yards and ran for another 14. Smith is eighth in the 5A conference in passing yards with 1,283 and seventh in total yards with 1,477. In 5A Metro, he is behind only Kellis’ Cade Peterson both in passing yards and total yards.

In Friday’s game under a full moon, Apollo struck first, scoring midway through the first quarter. Maricopa could not answer until 9:06 was left on the clock in the second quarter, when Akins ran the ball in from the 6. It was the only time the score was tied.

Apollo’s busy running back Ali Mohamed ran in from the 2 with 1:55 left in the half. Apollo also scored quickly in the third quarter to go up 21-7.

Starting from horrible field position on their next drive at just the 5-yard line, the Rams had senior Cam Sanders doing the grunt work to get the ball to their own 20. Smith threw a bomb to Cowing, who took it 80 yards for the touchdown. Maricopa went into the final quarter trailing 21-14.

Apollo managed a field goal after a nice goal-line stand by the Ram defense. Soon after, Akins grabbed the ball on the 45 and ran it all the way in for a touchdown, moving Maricopa within three points of the Hawks, 24-21, with 8:43 left to play.

The Ram defense again had to make a goal-line stand at the end of a time-eating drive by Apollo, but this time the Hawks were able to score on a third-down pass from the 1 to lead 31-21 with 3:12 left. Then they trapped Maricopa in its own end zone for a safety.

But Maricopa played hard through the last minute, something McDonald was most proud of.

“We didn’t give up,” he said.

Starting on the 11-yard line with just 45.7 seconds remaining, Smith tossed the ball to Cowing who took a route up the left sideline all the way to the end zone.

The Rams made one last-ditch effort with an onside kick, hoping to grab possession, but Apollo landed on the ball and took care of it for the rest of the game.

The loss put Maricopa in third place in 5A Metro behind Apollo and Sunnyside, which are both 2-0 in the region. Sunnyslope is 4-3 overall (compared to Maricopa’s 5-2 record), and happens to be the Rams’ next opponent.

Maricopa plays the Vikings Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. in Phoenix.

Kemo Akins (4) takes the ball from Alec Smith (14) in the Rams' victory at Ironwood. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Ranking seventh in 5A this season, the Maricopa High School football team came off a bye week to a rough start against Metro rival Ironwood.

In the end, the Rams came away with the 26-15 “completely ugly win,” head coach Chris McDonald said. The team sputtered out of the chute, often losing yardage to unfortunate execution and penalties, with even a 36-yard touchdown pass called back by a flag.

“From 2o to 20, we did a great job, and then we’d shoot ourselves in the foot with silly penalties near the goal line and took away 21 points,” McDonald said.

After junior Jacob Cowing took a pass from senior quarterback Alec Smith 62 yards for a touchdown, Maricopa went into halftime trailing 6-8.

During the break, they rallied themselves to return to Maricopa’s brand of football.

“We talked about how we need to relax and play our game,” McDonald said.

The chat was effective. The Rams scored on their first possession of the third quarter. A drive that started on their 35 culminated in a seven-yard TD run by senior Kemo Akins and a successful point-after kick by Josh Mendes. Immediately after, Ironwood fumbled the ball on its own 15, and Maricopa junior Tylen Coleman picked it up and scored. Mendes’ kick put the Rams up 20-8.

Ironwood was not finished, however. A 23-yard touchdown run put the Eagles just five points behind Maricopa with 4:11 left in the third.

But the Maricopa defense shut down the Eagles the rest of the night. Akins put the game away for the Rams in the fourth quarter on a 39-yard run up the left sideline. He was shoved across the corner of the end zone for the final touchdown.

“It’s nice that we’re in a position now as a program where we can still win not putting our best foot forward at times,” McDonald said.

Both teams had injuries, with the Rams losing junior Jimmy Cutajar for the game. He was taken to a hospital for treatment, but the coach said he sounded upbeat.

The win put Maricopa’s record at 5-1 (1-0). Ranked right behind them in 5A is Apollo, which is 4-1 going into tonight’s game. The Rams play Apollo next Friday.

“We need to improve,” McDonald said. “We’re not going to beat Apollo playing the way we did. It’s just not going to happen.”

 

Action from last year's tourney. Photo By Raquel Hendrickson

The yearly golfing event that benefits local athletes is set to tee off Saturday morning.

The eighth annual Maricopa High School Football Golf Tournament begins with an 8 a.m. shotgun start and a four-person scramble at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes.

The registration fee per person is $125, and $500 per foursome.

Mark Rasmusson, MHS Football Booster Club president, said the money raised goes toward equipment, trips to football camps and meal planning.

The cost of meals alone each season is over $10,000.

“Every game-day we feed each team: the freshmen, JV and varsity; Along with varsity also every Thursday night before their games, so we are providing four meals a week basically,” Rasmusson said.

The booster club hopes to raise between $18,000 and $19,000 Saturday.

A variety of prizes are offered in the general tourney, including additional prizes for long drive, closest to the hole, and a $5,000 cash prize for a hole-in-one on hole No. 17.

Rasmusson said the event helps provide equal footing for Maricopa football players who play in a large division but live in what still feels like a small town.

“For our kids, sometimes there is a stigma about Maricopa, and we’re trying to provide the kids the same opportunity that every other kid in the state has,” Rasmusson said.

Participants have until 7:30 a.m. the day of the event to sign up. To register visit the Maricopa Rams Football Facebook page.

 

Prizes

  • Scotty Cameron putter
  • Titleist driver
  • Traeger Smoker
  • 55 in. 4k smart TV
  • Steel case leap task chair
  • Troon golf package

 

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School football team handily won its Homecoming game Friday night, 54-14, over North Canyon.

Head coach Chris McDonald said the Rams did to the Rattlers what Centennial had done to Maricopa the week before, and improved their mid-season record to 4-1 in the process.

The Maricopa defense held North Canyon (2-3) to 54 rushing yards and 122 receiving yards. Fumble recoveries, interceptions (Jacob Cowing and Ilijah Johnson), sacks, a safety (Stefon Nelson) and even the recovery of a bad punt hike in the end zone (Edward Donaldson) had the Rattlers back on their heels all game.

“We capitalized on their turnovers and took the wind out of their sails,” McDonald said.

Meanwhile, the Maricopa offense was firing on all cylinders. Senior running back Kemo Akins rushed for three touchdowns, including the first and last of the Rams’ eight touchdowns. Senior quarterback Alec Smith connected with junior wide receiver Jacob Cowing on three scoring plays, including two 80-yard bombs.

Smith, who again had more than 150 yards passing despite playing only half the game, also scored on a 28-yard keeper.

Maricopa did have serious issues on special teams, and mistakes McDonald warned the team could cost them games.

In the meantime, the Rams are relishing a blowout victory and a week off. This week is a bye for the team. The second half of the season, in which they take on all 5A Metro foes, begins Thursday, Sept. 28, at Ironwood (1-3) in Glendale.

Maricopa has outscored its opponents 181-113. After Ironwood, the Rams will face Apollo (3-1), Sunnyslope (2-2), Kellis (4-0) and McClintock (2-2).

See below for photos of Homecoming Night. For RamFest coverage, click here

Maricopa High School Varsity Football Rams vs Centennial Coyotes Sept 8, 2017 | InMaricopa | Photographer Jonathan Williams

The Maricopa Rams did not become the first team this season to score a point off Centennial Friday. Instead, they suffered the same fate as the Coyotes’ earlier opponents, losing 44-0.

The result moved Maricopa’s varsity record to 3-1.

Undefeated Centennial, which is ranked No. 4 among all football teams in the state, brought a large crowd to Maricopa for the wind-blown game at Ram Stadium. Players dealt with flying dust and gusts so strong they had to hold the football on the tee for kickoffs.

Rams head coach Chris McDonald told the team afterward they will learn 10 times more from a loss like that than from a win. He also told them to mentally flush the game “down the toilet.”

From the start, Centennial was a gale force on its own. The Coyotes scored with less than a minute off the clock on a 60-yard run by Zidane Thomas. Thomas, whom McDonald called a “Division I running back,” scored again with 3:01 on the clock.

Maricopa, overwhelmed by the Coyote defense, fumbled the ball 14 seconds later, and Centennial’s Matthew Kudray took it in for another touchdown. The Centennial kickoff pushed the Rams back to their own 2-yard line, and the Coyotes forced a safety.

Centennial quarterback Ruben Beltran completed a 60-yard touchdown pass to Alex Escobar, and the Coyotes took a 30-0 lead into halftime.

“That first half we played about as bad as we could,” McDonald said. “I said, ‘Hey, I want the real Maricopa team to come out the second half. We’ve got that out of the way; let’s try to win the second half and build off of it and earn some respect.’”

For the second game in a row, the Maricopa defense spent a lot of time on the field and seemed to improve on reading what and who was coming at them as the game went on.

“They came out in the second half and did what they were supposed to do,” McDonald said of the Rams. “The way our kids competed that second half was really good.”

From the 6-yard line, Thomas scored for the visitors with 6:49 on the clock in the third quarter. A 50-yard pass to Escobar with 30 seconds left in the third resulted in the final touchdown of the game.

“Their quarterback, I think, did a really good job,” McDonald said. “Their line, for the most part, was what I expected. I was a little disappointed in us not being able to stop the run as much as I thought we would in the first quarter. I thought we would match up well, and we didn’t.”

In preparing for next Friday’s Homecoming match-up with North Canyon, Maricopa coaches will be putting more pressure on the offense, most pointedly the quarterbacks, to clean up mental mistakes.

“We’ve got to execute better when we play a team that’s just as fast as we are,” McDonald said.

Maricopa had senior Zion Saole back on the line but may have lost punter Kevin Coutre, who was injured late in the game.

Friday, the Rams are favored to beat the Rattlers, who are 2-2. The game starts at 7 p.m. at Ram Stadium.

Photo by Victor Moreno

 

After a season-opening loss at home last week, the Sequoia Pathway Academy varsity football team will be on the road Friday taking on Imagine Superstition. Photographer Victor Moreno shared photos from the Pumas’ first game, a scoreless effort against ALA-Gilbert.

 

A physical battle was inevitable when two teams that have overwhelmed their competition so far meet on the football field.

The Maricopa High School Rams traveled to south Tucson to take on Desert View Friday and got just that kind of battle, and a clash with the referee crew into the bargain. Leaning heavily on the defense (Stefon Nelson had a particularly impressive night), the Rams pulled out a 33-20 victory.

“They played a helluva game,” MHS head coach Chris McDonald said of his defensive unit. “We kept them on the field too long because offensively we didn’t play particularly well in the middle of the game.”

McDonald blamed that on mental mistakes by players and himself and other coaches.

A strong start by the Rams set up the successful evening. Maricopa scored first after a lengthy series of running plays. Quarterback Alec Smith kept the ball and scampered in from the 24 yard line.

“They’re giving us five in the box still, so they were daring us to run,” McDonald said. “So obviously they thought that they would out-muscle us up front. It was good we just wore them down.”

Desert View scored a little more than two minutes later on a pass play that got away from the Maricopa defense. But the Rams came right back on two long runs by senior Kemo Akins that got the team down to the 8 yard line. Junior Jacob Cowing took the ball in from there. When the point-after kick failed the Rams took the 13-7 lead into the second quarter.

Midway through, a pass from Smith to Cowing took Maricopa to the 2, and Akins scored from there. Senior kicker Josh Mendes was successful with the PAT for a 20-7 lead.

From that point, the game disintegrated a bit. The Maricopa offense lost more yardage than it gained, and the defense was flagged for pass interference twice and a then a personal foul after the Jaguars finally scored again with 21.7 seconds left. The referees lost track of the clock and the number of time-outs, which led to lengthy discussions even after the teams had left the field for halftime.

“They didn’t have anything to say. What could they say?” McDonald said. “I told them I was displeased with what they were doing, and that’s all I could say. You know they’re not going to turn it around.”

For all that, Maricopa had the 20-13 lead.

The Rams’ defense did most of its work in the third quarter when nothing else was working very effectively. Seconds into the fourth quarter, however, the Jaguars scored to tie the game and raise the intensity another notch.

Akins scored from the 27 and Mendes kicked the PAT to push Maricopa on top for good with 7:03 left in the game. After Desert View was forced to punt, Akins again broke through the Jaguar line near midfield and ran for the goal line with Desert View’s speedy wide receiver Cam Denson hot on his heels and gaining. Akins took a flying lunge across the line as Denson was grabbing for him.

The exhausted Akins had to be helped off the field by teammates, and Maricopa was on top, 33-20. As the PAT attempt failed, a fight broke out on the field, with players pulled apart before it could build into a brawl.

Despite the high emotions and ongoing frustration with the referees, the Rams were able to hunker down and execute offensively and defensively through the end of the game.

“They understand what it’s about. They understand what we’re here for,” McDonald said. “We’re here to play football; we’re here to win a football game. They’ve worked too hard for it to allow all that other nonsense to overshadow what we’re trying to do here.”

Maricopa has won its first three games by a combined score of 127-56. The Rams host Centennial Friday at 7 p.m. The Coyotes are undefeated and have not given up a point.

The Rams take a break in the action to hear from coach Chris McDonald. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Despite some setbacks in Game 2 of the football season, the Maricopa High School Rams unloaded on Paradise Valley on Friday for 49-23 victory.

The Rams took the field missing a starting running back and a lineman, one for disciplinary reasons and the other for family matters. The situation put a lot of pressure on senior running back Kemo Akins to make up the slack in the first quarter.

“The first quarter was a whole different game for me,” said Akins, who was called on frequently for the heavy-hitting, short-yardage plays as well as his more typical sweeping runs through the Trojans defense. “We had to get guys to fill in and get the job done.”

Akins scored two of Maricopa’s seven touchdowns. He also fulfilled his duty as a team captain.

“We worked hard all week, and we watched them, and we were prepared,” he said. “I’ve been telling them three things: Focus, prepare and finish. And they followed through with that.”

Head coach Chris McDonald said the team knew the Trojans had a quarterback “who can sling it” in sophomore Ben Hanley. And the Rams fielded a backup safety and a sophomore corner.

“Once we made the adjustments, we played pretty well,” McDonald said.

After the Maricopa defense stymied the Trojans on their first possession, the Rams used Akins to move the ball downfield. Then senior quarterback Alec Smith threw to wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who took it 22 yards for the score with 7:59 on the clock.

Paradise Valley came back quickly, scoring about two minutes later on a 43-yard pass.

In the second quarter, Maricopa pulled ahead for good when senior running back Cameron Sanders scored from inside the 3. Paradise Valley managed a field goal to draw close, but the Rams executed an 84-yard scoring pass from Smith to senior Cameron Nissenson.

Maricopa led 21-10 at halftime in a game dragged out by several penalties on both sides.

“We battled through adversity, I can tell you that,” Smith said. “Once we got adjusted and just played our game, it all fell into place.”

The Rams started quickly in the third quarter with Smith connecting with Cowing for a 49-yard touchdown. The Trojans answered with a 23-yard passing TD, but Maricopa was right back in the end zone on a 4-yard run by Akins.

After an interception by Stefon Nelson, Akins scored again with 5:16 left in the quarter. Sanders ran the ball in from the 3 for Maricopa’s third straight score at the end of the third.

With most of Maricopa’s starters resting, the Trojans managed a passing touchdown with 17 seconds left in the game.

Maricopa had 610 total yards. Smith was 13-for-17 passing for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Sanders had 123 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Akins had 101 yards rushing and also scored twice. Cowing caught three passes for 84 yards and scored twice. Nissenson had two catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.

That gave the Rams the same 2-0 start they had last year before they ran into Desert View, a loss McDonald called a “hiccup.”

Friday, they will run into Desert View again. McDonald said the Rams will be “playing the revenge factor to the hilt.” The game is at 7 p.m. in Tucson.

Maricopa High School Football vs Willow Canyon , 08-18-2017, Jonathan Williams

Scoring six touchdowns, the Maricopa High School football team won its first game of the season 45-13 over Willow Canyon Friday.

The Rams racked up 498 yards, 299 in a passing yards accumulated by quarterbacks Alec Smith and Devin Parady. The offensive and defensive lines made an obvious impact from the start, the O-line helping Maricopa to score on its first two possessions while the defense stifled the Wildcats.

Cameron Sanders, Kemo Akins and Jacob Cowing combined for the Rams touchdowns, with Cowing rushing and receiving to score.

“I think Cowing is an All-State caliber type kid, and they’re giving him one-on-one matchups, and our quarterbacks know what to do when that happens,” head coach Chris McDonald said.

Willow Canyon, a 5A team from the Northwest Region, found most of its effectiveness in the air, with 201 passing yards, but never threatened Maricopa. The Rams had the Wildcat offense under pressure all game. Junior tackle Tylen Coleman in particular seemed to be all over Willow Canyon quarterback Brendan Haynes to the point that McDonald was surprised he was still standing at the end of the game.

“The defense played awesome. For the most part they kept them off the scoreboard. They were put in two different situations in bad field positions where they had to respond, and the they did,” McDonald said.

Maricopa scored three touchdowns in the second quarter. It was 24-0 nothing before Willow Canyon got on the board with a passing play, but the Rams came right back with a 52-yard pass from Smith to Cowing to lead 31-6 at the half.

The Rams held Willow Canyon scoreless in the third while getting another rushing touchdown from Akins. In the fourth, Cowing ran in Maricopa’s final touchdown at the 5:20 mark to put the game away.

“It was a great team win, a really good team win,” head coach Chris McDonald said.

“Obviously we’ve got to clean some things up. We were misaligned at times,” McDonald said. He also wasn’t happy with the kickoff unit, which he called inconsistent.

Smith passed for 292 yards and a touchdown. Parady had 45 yards on one pass that resulted in a touchdown. Akins rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders rushed for 37 yards and two touchdowns. Cowing caught eight passes for 275 yards and two touchdeowns.

Maricopa now prepares for Paradise Valley, a 5A Northwest Valley team that lost its season-opener to Verrado, 54-28. The game is in Paradise Valley at 7 p.m.

 

“Overall team speed is better. I think that we’re bigger and stronger than we were last year,” head coach Chris McDonald said of the Maricopa High School football team.

IF YOU GO
What: Maricopa High School Rams Football Season Opener
When: Aug. 18, 7 p.m.
Where: Ram Stadium, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.

The Rams start their season at home Friday at 7 p.m. against Willow Canyon.

The team has a new vibe after Maricopa’s first season in 5A Metro left them with a .500 record. The players talk a lot about chemistry, making it an important part of team-building with a mix of veterans, up-and-comers and new faces.

“Our chemistry for the team is really good this year,” junior center Jake Meyer said. “We’re all pretty much family-oriented.”

“Chemistry is like anything else, it’s got to be developed,” McDonald said. “We do a lot of team-bonding activities. I think the most important part is if the kids understand how it relates to having a better team, which in turn is going to give them a better experience and have a more successful season; if kids buy into that, that’s when it really starts to develop.”

The 2017 edition of the Rams is still not the biggest of 5A division teams, but they are quick. Two speedy running backs who made an impact on last year’s squad are returning. Cam Sanders and Kemo Akins are seniors and team captains.

In his own way, Sanders has become a virtual spokesman for the team, which is currently studying Willow Canyon.

“We’ve been preparing since the beginning of summer,” he said. “That was the only team we had our mind focused on. We take them a week at a time.”

Senior co-captains Cam Sanders and Taylor Belcher. (Not pictured Kemo Akins)

The Rams scrimmaged at Notre Dame Prep on Friday. McDonald called it a “vanilla” outing, but it was a chance to get up to game speed.

“It wasn’t just JV. That’s another varsity team,” Sanders said. “When I got hit the first time, I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re ready to play. I like it. It feels good.’”

While Sanders led the team scoring last season with seven touchdowns, Akins was second in team rushing yards with 283.

Senior Taylor Belcher, 6-foot-4, 230-pound linebacker, was also chosen by the team as one of the three permanent captains. Coaches choose a fourth captain for each game.

“I feel pretty honored that my team put my name in their votes to name me captain this year and walk out to the coin-flip every game,” Belcher said.

Injury caused Maricopa to have rotating quarterbacks in 2016. This season, senior Alec Smith has played his way into the position. Smith moved to Maricopa from Illinois in the middle of his sophomore year, after the football season. Though he had played a little quarterback during spring ball, he wound up as a tight end his junior year.

This year during spring ball, he was asked if he wanted to play quarterback again.

“I said, ‘Yeah,’ and then it just happened,” Smith said. “I’ve been playing quarterback like my whole life, so I pretty much still had it.”

Game 1 quarterback is scheduled to be senior Alec Smith.

McDonald announced Smith as the Game 1 starter.

“It’s his job to lose,” McDonald said. “He’s been with us all off-season and done a great job picking up the offense, and he’s getting better as a leader. [Senior] Devin Parady is a kid that came on late, if you will, in summer and is a kid who’s really started to blossom in pushing Alec, which is only going to make Alec better.”

A newcomer drawing notice, and not just for his size, is senior Zion Saole. After playing on an overwhelming, undefeated freshman team in Anchorage, Alaska, Saole moved with his family to Maricopa last fall.

“I would have played, but then I would have had to sit out for more than half the season,” said Saole, who is a 6-foot-4 lineman weighing around 330 pounds.

“He’s worked his tail off,” coach McDonald said. “He was about 380 pounds when we first got him in January. He’s lost almost 50 pounds. It obviously takes dedication to do that.”

Saole is only 16 years old.

McDonald said he’s passionate about the game and a “high-character kid.”

“The first week of school I had two different teachers already communicate with me what a great role model, what a great leader he’s been in their class,” McDonald said. “So that really speaks volumes about what he’s about. He’s kind of an old soul. He understands the big picture of things.”

One thing McDonald learned in the scrimmage was the amount of “mental-mistakes” cleanup that may need to be done. The players know it, too.

“We need to work on a lot of improvements, particularly myself,” senior Edward Donaldson said. “I’m also looking to go to college, and I need some scouts to come look at me so I can make it out. We need to work together better as a team, so better communication and better teamwork.”

McDonald is also concerned about the health of the team, calling them “banged up.” And while he pined a bit for some “prototypical, old-school throwback, tough football players” from last year’s team, he said this year’s Rams are still pretty tough, and they have an edge.

“I think they have a chip on their shoulder. I think they understand what’s ahead of them,” McDonald said. “They want to accomplish something. They want to get over the hump. We’ve always been a game here and a game there short of making the playoffs.”

Junior wide receiver Jacob Cowing has his long-term goals set there.

“I’m looking forward to making it to the playoffs,” Cowing said. “I think with our team chemistry this year, we can make it happen.”

 

SCHEDULE

DATE                     TIME                      OPPONENT

Aug. 18                 7 p.m.                   Willow Canyon

Aug. 25                 7 p.m.                   @ Paradise Valley

Sept. 1                  7 p.m.                   @ Desert View

Sept. 8                  7 p.m.                   Centennial

Sept. 15                7 p.m.                   North Canyon [HOMECOMING]

Sept. 28 (Thu)    7 p.m.                   @ Ironwood*

Oct. 6                    7 p.m.                   Apollo*

Oct. 13                  7 p.m.                   @ Sunnyslope*

Oct. 20                  7 p.m.                   @ Kellis*

Oct. 27                  7 p.m.                   McClintock* [SENIOR NIGHT]

*5A Metro

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Noah Salinas came to Maricopa High School for his senior year intent on being part of the sports teams. Photo by Victor Moreno

Most people, when faced with a life challenge, obscure their adversity and then hope to heavens it doesn’t reveal itself. Others dig in and face the opposing force head on.

Maricopa High School graduate Noah Salinas is without a doubt that second type.

Originally from Sterling, Colorado, Salinas, 18, was born missing the lower half of both legs along with his entire left hand, a condition referred to as tri-amelia. Such a condition can severely limit a person’s ability to function, sometimes forcing them into a wheelchair and/or a life of assisted-living.

For Salinas, nothing could be further from reality.

He became an athlete.

Before starting school, Salinas had no concept of being different. It didn’t dawn on him until he showed up the first day of kindergarten and saw other kids without prosthetics.

He returned home that day and received a rather straight-forward explanation from his parents, one that evidently had a major effect on the way he would later approach life.

Soon after discovering this potentially constraining position in life, around age 5 or 6, he found surprising success at one of the activities few would imagine he could even attempt – wrestling.

Noah Salinas upends an opponent in sectional competition. Photo by Victor Moreno

Salinas was a natural athlete, according to his mother Amber, and he became interested in other sports, including the very physical game of football. A few years after playing in a few pick-up games with his cousins, Noah joined a youth team in Colorado.

When trying new, daunting tasks Salinas claimed to never make much of a consideration for his condition.

“I don’t really think about it; I never really let it get to me,” Salinas said. “I just kind of try it and go from there.”

Others are not so capable of overlooking his prosthetics. For those people, Salinas has a special response.

“I would always just make jokes about myself,” he said. “So they knew I didn’t care and that I was going to do what I needed to do to be successful in life.”

While growing up, Salinas switched back and forth periodically between football and wrestling. In 2015, after his family came to Arizona, Noah attended Williams Field High School in Higley and made the football team. Due to the coaches’ attempts to shelter Noah, his mother said, he was never allowed to play in games.

Noah was the recipient of the national Sports Authority Courage Award in 2016.

His family decided to bring him out to Maricopa, where they hoped he would have a chance at playing. Again, he was not on the field much. But, like much of his life, he never really let that get him down.

“I guess they [football coaches] were afraid of me getting hurt,” Salinas said. “I understand that.”

With all the focus on football, he avoided the mat most of his high school career until his senior year, when he thought he’d give it one last try.

He finished with an almost even record at 16 wins and 18 losses in the 182-pound weight class, pinning six of those opponents and earning a respectable 85 points for his team throughout the season.

To give himself better purchase on the mat, Salinas removes his prosthetics when wrestling and instead dawns rubberized socks. Removing his prosthetics gives him another advantage as well.

He towers over most opponents when wearing his prosthetics, standing well over 6-feet tall. However, with his legs removed, he is slightly shorter than most of his opponents, making it more difficult to take him down.

“That makes it so they can’t really get to me the same,” Salinas said.

Photo by Victor Moreno

All athletic prowess aside, Salinas is an otherwise typical teenager, with concerns about girls and friends. But most importantly, Noah is looking to the future.

Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps, Salinas is considering a career in welding. And though he hardly ever wears his prosthetic hand because it causes discomfort, he has conceded when it comes to welding he will most likely have to have some sort of prosthetic.

Because of work, Salinas’s family had to return to the Higley-Queen Creek area this year before school could finish. Fortunately for Salinas, he said, his close friend and fellow MHS wrestler Kevin McDill has a “really great” family who offered to let Noah stay through graduation.

Wrestling head coach Erick Fierro chats with Noah Salinas on graduation night.

Salinas plans to attend one of the community colleges in the area to receive the vocational training needed to become a professional welder.

He isn’t afraid of any barriers he could face in the often rough-neck field of metal workers and welders. He simply plans to stay true to his philosophy.

“When somebody says, ‘you can’t do it,’ and I do it anyways, it proves them wrong,” Salinas said. “I like proving them wrong.”

Salinas shows off his prosthetics, a version of which he has worn since childhood. Photo by Mason Callejas

This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Locally, Derrick Warford is known as the defensive coordinator for Maricopa High School's football team. But he wants to spread physical and emotional wellness among all youth. Photo by William Lange

Born with a heart defect that caused him two heart attacks before his 36th birthday, Derrick Warford wants to spread wellness among the youth – physically, mentally and behaviorally.

IF YOU GO
What: AZEA Wellness Tour
When: June 24, 9 a.m-6 p.m.
Where: Ram Stadium, Maricopa High School, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: Event is free; 7-on-7 Passing Tournament $175 per team
Info: Facebook.com/AZEACLUB

A social services technician and one-time professional football player, Warford is an assistant football coach at Maricopa High School and heads AZ Elite Athletics Wellness Services (AZEA) to provide training and resources for school-age athletes.

“I’ve always been training athletes,” he said.

Wellness is usually top of mind for him personally. He has known since he was a child his condition would get chancy as he got older. He never let the issue keep him away from athletics or his mission to prepare kids for life.

This month, AZEA is hosting a “Wellness Tour” at Maricopa High School’s Ram Stadium. Warford said the expo is focused on mindfulness and wellness. Whether teen players come to him to find a way to use athletics to gain an education or a career or just physical discipline, he wants them to learn young the consequences of decisions they make.

The June 24 event is planned to have four major components. A “Wellness Fest” and community market will have community businesses, vendors, organizations and clubs along with artists and musicians providing resources. A “Youth Engagement Zone” is an active area with games, bounce houses, arts and crafts, raffles and special guests. The free Athletic Skills Camp is for boys and girls age 8-12 who want a try at circuit training, speed drills and a combine course.

Derrick Warford’s AZ Elite Athletics Wellness Services will host a wellness tour and 7-on-7 football passing tournament in Maricopa on June 24.

A main draw is a “Prove It” 7-on-7 football passing tournament and team combine, featuring varsity and junior varsity players from Maricopa and surrounding communities. Team entry is $175.

Warford said proceeds will benefit Be Awesome Youth Coalition, The Streets Don’t Love You Back, Maricopa Rams and Hope for Kids.

He likes to instill “the power of athletic thoughts” through constant repetition and self-awareness. When a student quits or rages or makes another bad decision, he walks them through the process of evaluating their own reaction.

“I say, ‘Ask yourself what was your trigger. What was that moment?’” he said.

A native of Macon, Georgia, Warford played football at Alabama State University. Undrafted after graduation, he signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans in 2006. A preseason knee injury hastened his departure from the pro ranks.

He moved to Arizona in 2008. Soured a bit on football, he worked with at-risk youth in his social services capacity. He started AZEA in 2009, building more relationships with youths and Valley coaches. Warford got married and moved to Maricopa the same year, 2014. When he heard MHS was looking for volunteers in its basketball program, he reached out, flirting with the idea of coaching the freshmen.

That position was already filled, however.

“But they knew about my football background, and [Athletic Director Mark] Cisterna caught me on a good day and asked me about the football team,” Warford said.

“He kind of fell into our laps,” said Rams head coach Chris McDonald, who brought him in as a defensive line coach.”

Warford said it didn’t take long for the football “bug” to take hold again. “The freshmen bought into me because of the NFL thing,” he said.

At the end of the year, McDonald sat him down and offered him the job of defensive coordinator.

“He’s very demanding but respectful,” McDonald said. “He’s really good with the kids.”

Warford and his wife Raven both deal with medical challenges, he with his heart and she with epilepsy. Never again wanting to have to drive himself to the hospital in the middle of a heart attack, he worked to lose weight and control his blood pressure. The goal-setting he preaches to the kids is still getting a workout in his own life.


This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Mason Callejas

For the second year, members of the Arizona Rattlers arena football team came to Maricopa Public Library to read to children there through the program called “Read with a Rattler.” The team is in town to train at Copper Sky, session that are open to the public in the south fields. This year, Jon Wolf, Antonio Brown and Anthony Amos participated in “Read with a Rattler” and spoke about why they do it:

Photo by Mason Callejas
Photo by Mason Callejas