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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

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Sequoia Pathway won a tight CAA state championship came and took home the trophy Saturday. Photo by Victor Moreno

In the challenge of moving up to 11-man football in Division III of the Canyon Athletic Association, Sequoia Pathway Academy overcame odds and won the state championship on Saturday.

The Pumas defeated American Leadership Academy-Ironwood 20-13 at Phoenix Christian High School for the division trophy.

Senior running back Travion Bolds was named Most Valuable Player in the division. During the season he led the CAA in rushing with 1,731 yards. Senior quarterback Arthur Silva led Division III and was third overall in passing with 878 yards. Senior wide receiver Trey Anderson was first in the division and fourth overall in receiving yards with 658.

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Kenny Oliver, Sam Aviles and Nic Carbajal, all Maricopa High School seniors, were named First Team All-Section. Photos by William Lange

In 5A Metro All-Section voting, Maricopa High School had six football players and three volleyball players receive honors.

Senior Kenny Oliver was named First Team on defense and Second Team on offense. When not messing up other team’s passing games defensively, he averaged more than 56 receiving yards per game for the Rams’ offense and 18 yards per kickoff return.

Sam Aviles, who moved to Maricopa from Missouri for his senior year, was named First Team on special teams for his outstanding kicking. Senior Nickolas Carbajal, in an effective if unsung role on the offensive line, joins Oliver on the offensive First Team.

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Jathan Washington, Claytin Valenzuela and Daveon Harris were named to the All-Section Second Team. Photos by William Lange

Seniors Daveon Harris and Claytin Valenzuela were named Second Team on defense. Sophomore running back and sometime quarterback Jathan Washington was named Second Team on offense.

The football team was 5-5 overall and 2-3 in the section.

The volleyball team also played .500 ball with a 9-9 record. The Rams were 4-6 in the section.

In the Metro voting, sophomore powerhouse Carli Rieman was named First Team.

Senior Morgan Peters made the Second Team, and senior Aki Buckmister received honorable mention.

Photos by William Lange
Photos by William Lange

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Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The fourth-ranked Sequoia Pathway Academy Pumas shut out Heritage Academy – Laveen Friday night in Division III of Canyon Athletic Association’s football playoffs.

Despite a slow start, the Pumas quickly picked apart the visiting Heroes at Pacana Park for the 36-0 victory.

The win pits the Pumas against No. 1 Canyon State Academy in the semi-finals on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Valley Christian Academy in Chandler.

Sequoia Pathway is 8-2 in its first year of 11-man football.

Puma running back Travion Bolds leads the CAA in rushing yards this season with 1,731. Quarterback Arthur Silva is third in passing yards with 878. Many of those passes have gone to Trey Anderson, who is fourth in receiving yards with 658. Bolds was fifth in tackles in CAA play with 51.

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MHS seniors pose for a final photo in uniform at the end of the victory at McClintock. Photo by William Lange

Maricopa High School’s football team wrapped up its season Friday night with a conference win at McClintock.

It was Homecoming and Senior Night for the Chargers, but the Rams’ seniors lingered longest on the field after the 17-14 victory.

“The season has been a season of adversity, a lot of adversity,” head coach Chris McDonald said. He credited the seniors with finishing strong and having a “bond of brotherhood” as an example for the underclassmen.

The win gave Maricopa a 5-5 record in a season that introduced the Rams to a tough new conference in a tough new division. McClintock had an even more difficult time with the re-alignment, winning just three games and getting swept in conference competition.

Friday night, Maricopa scored first on Zach Bachelder’s quarterback keeper from just outside the goal line midway through the first quarter. McClintock took advantage of a long punt return to set up a quick goal line series that tied the game 7-7 at the end of the period.

At the beginning of the second quarter, McClintock recovered a Ram fumble and ran the ball to the Rams’ 13 yard line. The Chargers soon went up 14-7.

Quarterback Zach Bachelder scores the first touchdown of the night. Photo by William Lange
Quarterback Zach Bachelder scores the first touchdown of the night. Photo by William Lange

Maricopa tied the score before halftime on a short-yardage run by sophomore running back Jacob Cowing.

The Rams’ defense locked down for the rest of the game. So when senior kicker Sam Aviles nailed a 24-yard field goal with 5:06 left in the third quarter, it was all Maricopa needed for the win.

Maricopa rushed for 115 yards, led by senior Daveon Harris’ 56 yards on 18 carries. Junior Kemo Akins carried the ball nine times for 44 yards.

Bachelder completed four of 10 pass attempts for 46 yards. His longest connection was a 13 yarder to senior Kenny Oliver.

Bachelder injured his shoulder in the first game of the season and missed four games. Despite not being completely healed, he returned to give the Rams a consistent presence behind center. McDonald said most young players would have quit after that first game.

“That just speaks to the level of toughness he has,” McDonald said. Bachelder has surgery scheduled.

Maricopa’s starting 11 this season included four sophomores. While that demanded a large learning curve, McDonald said it gives the Rams a lot of returning experience next year.

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Seniors Dillon Cunningham, Eanis Olmos, Grady Akers, zander Benitez, Nickolas Carbajal, Cody Decenzi, Dakota Halverson, Cole Trimmer, Kenny Oliver, Sam Aviles, Johnny Smith, Claytin Valenzuela, Zach Bachelder and Daveon Harris celebrate Senior Night with coach Chris McDonald. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School football team has fully felt the impact of redistricting in the last half of the season as it faced off with new conference rivals in 5A Metro.

The result, as the Rams head into their final game, is a 4-5 record overall and a 1-3 record in the conference. Maricopa’s 55-28 loss Friday to 5A Metro leader Raymond S. Kellis High School may have been foretold but still stung on Senior Night.

Yet, celebration played a major role in the proceedings as the crowd honored senior football players, cheerleaders and marching band and corps members in the final home game.

Kellis scored four consecutive touchdowns in the first half, including a 39-yard punt return. Maricopa committed turnovers that had the Rams’ defense on the field frequently.

Maricopa got on the board before halftime as senior Kenny Oliver grabbed a 52-yard pass from sophomore Jathan Washington. The Rams trailed 27-7 after senior Sam Aviles’ point-after kick.

Photo by William Lange
Photo by William Lange

The Rams came back out of the locker room rejuvenated. Junior Cameron Sanders scored in the first minute. With a boot from Aviles, Maricopa was down just 27-14.

But Kellis got back those points almost immediately to go up 34-14. The Rams came right back, with Sanders scoring on a 19-yard run.

The Cougars scored twice in the fourth quarter to build the lead to 48-21. A spectacular 40-yard-rush by Daveon Harris took the Rams to the 3-yard line. He ran the ball in from there for Maricopa’s final touchdown. Kellis wasn’t done and scored once more before time ran out.

Cougar senior Damien Campbell rushed for 213 yards and scored six of Kellis’s seven touchdowns.

To end the season, the Rams hit the road to play McClintock (3-6, 0-4) Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

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Longman Pyne tries to avoid defenders in Friday's home loss. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams chalked up their fourth loss Friday, leveling their record to 4-4 and dropping to 1-2 in 5A Metro.

Section rival Sunnyslope visited, scored early and ran off with the 27-10 win.

The Rams’ only touchdown came in the first quarter on a pass from Zach Bachelder to wide receiver Kenny Oliver. Sam Aviles kicked a field goal in the second quarter, and the Rams went into halftime trailing by just seven points.

But the Vikings put up 10 more points while holding Maricopa scoreless for the rest of the game.

Bachelder was 15-for-29 in the game for 146 yards. The Rams were held to just 73 yards rushing, 55 of that coming on one run by Jacob Cowing. Oliver had five catches for 98 yards. Longman Pyne caught three for 30 yards.

Next up for the Maricopa is a home game against 5A Metro leader Raymond S. Kellis High School, which is 7-1 (3-0). The Rams play the Cougars Friday at 7 p.m.

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The Maricopa defense tries to drag down Apollo in Friday nights game in Glendale. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa Rams’ football game at Apollo Friday night started badly and ended badly, and wasn’t very pretty in between.

A 40-16 loss to their 5A Metro rival moved MHS’s record to 4-3.

“Our kids played like they didn’t want to play,” Maricopa head coach Chris McDonald said.

He told his players the loss could be chalked up to a particularly unmotivated week of practice and should be a wakeup call.

“I think my kids realize that you play like you practice,” he said. “We were dead all week and we were dead during the game. We had our seniors pointing it out.”

Apollo had Maricopa’s defense back on its heels from the start. Sophomore quarterback Frank Sanchez received good protection from his line to move his team down field, opening with four straight first downs against the Rams.

The Hawks scored first on a rush from Roderick Lockett from the 25 at the 6:38 point in the first quarter. Maricopa’s first possession ended with a fumble in the end zone that turned into a safety, and Apollo was quickly up 9-0.

Kenny Oliver goes up for a pass reception late in the game. Photo by William Lange
Kenny Oliver goes up for a pass reception late in the game. Photo by William Lange

Apollo kicker Pedro Armenta kicked a field goal with 1:58 left in the quarter to extend the lead, 12-0.

Maricopa at last got within field goal range at 7:35 in the second quarter, and senior kicker Sam Aviles kicked it through from the 30 for the Rams’ first three points. They did not score again until the fourth quarter.

The Hawks, meanwhile, scored another touchdown with Lockett running. An attempted field goal by Apollo in the waning seconds of the half failed, and Maricopa went into the locker room down 19-3.

The Maricopa defense started to show its old spark in the third quarter, making a field goal stand and recovering a fumble. Neither offense fared particularly well until Apollo scored on a passing play from the 1 yard line for a 26-3 lead.

Maricopa’s first touchdown came in the top of the fourth quarter with junior Cameron Sanders running the ball in, and Aviles hitting the extra point.

Apollo answered with a 28-yard scoring pass to go up 33-10 with 6:15 left in the game. More than a minute later, Maricopa scored on a 35-yard pass from senior Zach Bachelder to senior receiver Kenny Oliver. An attempt at a two-point conversion failed.

The Hawks scored again on a 34-yard run by Lockett to solidify the win.

“Our kids didn’t quit,” McDonald said. “It was 40-16, and they were still out there giving it their all.”

Maricopa had 10 first downs to Apollo’s 19.

Bachelder and sophomore Jathan Washington combined for 153 passing yards. Bachelder was 8-for-26, Washington 1-for-1.

The running corps was held to just 93 yards rushing. Washington had 37 yards on 14 carries. Sanders had nine carries for 25 yards.

Senior Claytin Valenzuela led the defense with 12 total tackles, and senior Daveon Harris had two sacks.

Next week is fall break, which may be good or bad as the team prepares to host Sunnyslope.

“The good thing is, we’re going to spend much more time on playing football Monday through Thursday, I promise you that,” McDonald said.

“Playoffs start next Friday,” he said, explaining that every game now is a must-win.

Though Apollo is now only 3-4 overall, the Hawks are 2-0 in region play, tied at the top with Kellis. Maricopa and Sunnyslope are both 1-1 in 5A Metro competition.

MHS sophomore Jathan Washington scored two touchdowns Friday night. Photo by William Lange

Homecoming can be as distracting as it is motivating for a football team. It turned out to be both for Maricopa High School Friday night, as the varsity took down Ironwood 37-22 in its first 5A Metro competition.

The Rams’ defense appeared shaky early against the Eagles’ passing game, with missed assignments leading to touchdowns and vulnerable open-field tackling prolonging Ironwood’s momentum at times. Maricopa did not allow that to define the evening, however.

“It’s all fixable things,” Maricopa head coach Chris McDonald said.

The coach would have preferred not have the tight score of the third quarter against a team with only one win. Considering the disruptions inherent in Homecoming week and some internal conflict, he said the Rams maintained their composure well.

Maricopa scored first on a field goal from Sam Aviles. It was the start of a personally fruitful night for the senior kicker.

But Ironwood quickly answered with a touchdown on a 38-yard pass from Mason Nguyen to Dustin Hoffarth. That initiated back-and-forth scoring.

Ram junior Cameron Sanders ran in from the 12 yard line and Aviles kicked the extra point to put Maricopa up 10-7. Hoffarth took another pass from Nguyen from Ironwood’s own 33 to take a 14-10 lead.

Aviles scored three more points on a field goal with 5:06 left in the half, and the Rams trailed the Eagles 14-13. The Maricopa defense forced a fumble on the kickoff return, setting up Aviles for his third field goal to give the Rams a 16-14 lead. They never trailed again.

At the beginning of the second half, sophomore Jathan Washington ran the ball back 61 yards for a touchdown followed by an Aviles kick to widen the lead to 23-14.

Ironwood crawled back with a rushing touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion and was just one point behind with 5:47 left in the third quarter.

In front a boisterous Homecoming crowd, the Rams’ defense dug in to stop the Eagles the rest of the game.

After a fumble recovery and a run down to the 5 yard line, Sanders carried the ball in for another touchdown. Aviles kicked the PAT, and Maricopa had a 30-22 lead.

Washington scored again from the Maricopa 33 with 2:01 left in the game to complete the scoring.

It was not a pretty win in McDonald’s estimation, but he was happy to take it.

“I just wanted to see us play a cleaner game of football, especially defensively.” McDonald said. “We still have not put a full football game together where offense, defense and special teams play to best of their ability. It seems like every game it’s one or the other, which I guess can be a good thing, too, because we’re 4-2 and we still haven’t played good football yet.”

Washington led the Rams’ rushing with 104 yards on 13 carries. Sanders carried the ball nine times for 53 yards. Senior Kenny Oliver caught four passes for 67 yards and sophomore Jacob Cowing had six receptions for 66 yards. Senior quarterback Zachary Bachelder passed for 139 yards.

Aviles scored 13 points for Maricopa with his foot.

The Rams next play at Apollo High School (2-4) in Glendale Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. in more section play.

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Photo by Victor H. Moreno

Sequoia Pathway’s football team is in second place in the Canyon Athletic Association’s Division III. Friday’s 50-14 victory over Arizona Compass Prep gave the Pumas a 4-1 record, half a game behind Arizona Leadership Academy – Ironwood.

The Pumas hosted AZ Compass at Pacana Park and quickly ran off with the game. The Dragons scored both of their touchdowns in the first half and were shut down for the rest of the game.

Senior Travion Bolds ran for three touchdowns for Sequoia Pathway. Senior Trey Anderson scored three more on passes from Arthur Silva. Seth Lucas also rushed for a touchdown.

Bolds had 15 carries for 170 yards. Silva completed six passes for 162 yards, all to Anderson.

Lucas picked up 60 yards on four carries, and freshman Shane Miller ran 25 yards on five carries.

On defense, Bolds had five tackles on the night. Shawn Yuhas, Anderson and Miller each had four.

Anderson is leading the CAA in receiving this season. He has 27 completions for 568 yards, more than 100 yards above the second-place receiver, Brandon Haldiman of Desert Heights. He also has 99 yards rushing. He has scored nine touchdowns.

Bolds easily leads the league in rushing with 857 yards on 82 carries. (Second place is 428 yards). Going the other direction, he is the Pumas’ leader in tackles with 23.

Sequoia Pathway next plays Oct. 6 against Sequoia Charter School.

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Maricopa sophomore Jathan Washington finds open ground against Paradise Valley while racking up 130 yards rushing and scoring three touchdowns. Photo by William Lange

Despite a shaky start trying to defend the pass, the Maricopa High School football team came back against Paradise Valley for a 48-33 win in the Rams’ home opener Friday.

Maricopa scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Trojans in what was a hard-fought game. The offense relied heavily on an energized running game. Sophomore Jathan Washington carried the ball 10 times, totaling 130 yards and three touchdowns.

He also threw for two touchdowns in play-action as the offense kept Paradise Valley guessing. They were his only two passes of the game, both to senior Kenny Oliver.

For the first time in his career, junior Devin Parady started at quarterback, still filling in for injured Zach Bachelder. Parady completed 13 of 20 passes for 124 yards.

“To be thrown in the fire like that in a varsity game, I thought he did really well,” head coach Chris McDonald said. “I can’t really ask for more from a kid that’s thrown in a position like that. So I’m proud of him.”

The Trojans scored on their first two possessions on long passes. In the opening possession, the Rams’ defensive back fell down.

“In the second one, our safety got caught looking in the back field,” McDonald said. “We corrected it. Both guys got back in. Both guys delivered later on in the game.”

 

Seniors Mekhi Burch (77) and Johnny Smith prepare to take the field. Photo by William Lange
Seniors Mekhi Burch (77) and Johnny Smith prepare to take the field. Photo by William Lange

Junior Cameron Sanders did much of the short-yardage grunt work, carrying the ball 11 times for 44 yards and scoring the lead touchdown. The Rams scored again at the top of the second quarter on a muffed snap that saw Washington recover the ball and pass it to Oliver for a 62-yard touchdown catch.

That tied the game at 14, but Paradise Valley scored on its next possession, another pass with 10:20 on the clock.

Washington scored from the 11 with 2:49 left to tie the score at 21 at halftime.

The Trojans had the only touchdown of the third quarter, but Oliver blocked the point-after attempt. That allowed the Rams to take the lead after their next touchdown to open the fourth quarter, a 71-yard run by junior Kemo Akins. Senior Sam Aviles proved to be the superior kicker in the game, and his PAT put Maricopa up 28-27.

After Maricopa’s second score of the quarter, another run by Washington followed by an Aviles PAT, the Trojans returned the kickoff for a touchdown. They failed, however, at a 2-point conversion in an attempt to tie the score.

Maricopa ran off with the game from that point. The Rams had 481 total yards, 248 of them rushing. Oliver had 131 yards receiving on five receptions. Aviles was 6-for-7 in point-after attempts.

Next up for Maricopa is Tucson Desert View (1-0). McDonald said he and his coaches have had little chance to look at the Jaguars yet. The game starts at 7 p.m. at Ram Stadium.

 

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This season’s team captains for Sequoia Pathway football are (from left) Shawn Yuhas, Trey Anderson, Arthur Silva and Travion Bolds. Photo by Williams Lange

Sequoia Pathway Academy’s football team is stepping up in a big way.

The Pumas, perennial favorites in the Canyon Athletic Association, have moved from eight-man football to 11-man football. It represents challenges and opportunities, third-year head coach Demond Williams said.

While the athletes have already drawn the notice of Division II and III college football programs, Williams said going to 11-man ball will help SPA compete for players in a football town. The Pumas will also be facing schools with a bigger enrollment, like CAA Division III champion American Leadership Academy in Ironwood, which was 10-0 last year.

SPA was 9-1 in Division II in 2015, and a narrow loss in the title game has turned into the training mantra, “Three Minutes the Hard Way.”

The Pumas were undefeated and top-ranked going into the division championship game against Heritage Academy-Mesa. The Heroes went ahead by 6 points late in the game, and the Pumas’ offense could not come back in time.

Williams said being so close to a state championship has fired up the team for the new season. During both winter conditioning and spring ball, he said, the Pumas have worked with a purpose.

“We are super excited,” he said.

The Pumas continue to be a “great defensive group” that needed only to add three more positions to its line. They also have the confidence of two seasons of success.

The Pumas at practice. Photo by Dean Crandall
The Pumas at practice. Photo by Dean Crandall

“We have to make sure they’re not really complacent,” Williams said. He said the focus is on doing things right on the field and even more importantly in the classroom.

Last season, 20 players came out for the football team. This year, that grew to 32.

Among returning players are the Pumas’ four team captains. Senior quarterback Arthur Silva has been with the program since it started in 2014. Senior defensive back Trey Anderson is also the leading receiver. Senior Shawn Yuhas is a 6-foot-5 leader on the offensive line. Senior Travion Bolds led the team rushing with 1,172 yards.

Also back is senior Bryce Thurman, who led the team in sacks last year with 15.

Williams also praised the freshmen and sophomores coming up to combine with the returning players who have compiled impressive statistics over the program’s two seasons.

“This was the year to go to 11-man,” the coach said.

The Pumas won their first game in Division III by defeating Canyon State 42-36. Silva threw for 161 yards, and Bolds ran the ball 22 times for 206 yards and four touchdowns. Anderson had nine receptions for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Anderson also had seven total tackles to lead the defense. Devin Nickelson had a sack.

Friday, Sequoia Pathway plays Heritage Academy-Laveen, which also won its season opener.

The Pumas practice at school but host home games at Pacana Park. Photo by Dean Crandall
The Pumas practice at school but host home games at Pacana Park. Photo by Dean Crandall

Sequoia Pathway Varsity Football Schedule
Aug. 19     away     Canyon State Academy        W 42-36
Aug. 26     away    Heritage-Laveen                     7 p.m.
Sept. 2      away    Harvest Prep                            7 p.m.
Sept. 16    home    ALA-Ironwood                       7 p.m.

Sept. 23   away     AZ Compass                            7 p.m.
Oct. 6        away    Sequoia Charter School        7 p.m.

Oct. 14     home    Harvest Prep                          7 p.m.
Oct. 21     home    Heritage-Laveen                   7 p.m.
Oct. 28     away    ALA-Ironwood                         7 p.m.

Nov 4       PLAYOFFS- TBA


This story appeared in part in the September issue of InMaricopa.

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The team gets ready to move the food they collected to a volunteer's car for F.O.R. Maricopa. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School football team challenged themselves to collect their weight in food to donate to F.O.R. Maricopa’s food bank. They went door to door and to supermarkets to ask for donations to the cause. The Rams said it was an opportunity to give back to the community that has supported them. The season starts Aug. 19 at Willow Canyon in Surprise.

The Rams display the nonperishable food items the collected in Maricopa for the food bank. Photo by William Lange
The Rams display the nonperishable food items the collected in Maricopa for the food bank. Photo by William Lange

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Submitted photo

By Ethan McSweeney

D1 Maricopa, a local youth football program, is seeking to fill a few remaining spots on its teams ahead of the upcoming fall season.

For more information go to www.d1maricopa.com or www.facebook.com/D1Maricopa/

The program is looking for a few additional players for its third and fourth grade football team, as well as a couple of open spots on its fifth and sixth grade team, said Desmond Williams, president and founder of D1 Maricopa.

Sign-ups will take place at Pacana Park on Sunday, July 10, and again on July 24 from 9 a.m. to noon. Registration can also be done online if it isn’t possible to make it to one of the registration events, with the cutoff date being July 24. The cost for registration is $350, which includes decals, uniforms and fees, Williams said.

D1 Maricopa is part of the Alliance Youth Sports football league, which is a youth football organization that consists of teams across Arizona from Maricopa to Flagstaff.  The season runs from August through November.

D1 Maricopa’s fifth and sixth grade team has won the league’s past three championships, which are hosted at Northern Arizona University’s J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome. This is the first season D1 Maricopa is fielding a third and fourth grade team, Williams said.

All of the coaches have played Division 1 college football or have some professional football experience, said Williams, who played football at Michigan State and arena football for two years in Boise, Idaho.

D1 players also get to choose their own design for their helmet — a college they like or might want to attend, Williams said.

Williams said he hopes to establish D1 Maricopa as a stable program for young athletes in the community.

“I’m here to get the best kids in Maricopa to go out to win a championship and become a better man and a good citizen,” Williams said.

Maricopa High School’s first football schedule as part of the new Arizona Interscholastic Association 5A Conference will pit the Rams against some of the best teams in the state.

The 2016 schedule will see the Rams play four playoff teams, one state runner-up and one state champion from 2015.

The Rams will face Division III state runner-up Paradise Valley High School at home in the second week of the season on Aug. 26. Two weeks later, on Sept. 9, Maricopa will travel to Peoria to take on Centennial High School. The Coyotes are nationally ranked following their Division I state championship this season and have been one of the best teams in the state over the last decade.

“It’s obviously going to be a step up, but I think that we have some kids coming through this program that are pretty good football players, so it’ll allow them to challenge their talents and challenge us as a program,” football head coach Chris McDonald said.

Maricopa will open the 2016 season in Surprise against Willow Canyon High School on Aug. 19. The Rams will also host Desert View High School (Tucson) on Sept. 2 and travel to Phoenix to take on North Canyon High School on Sept. 16 before receiving a bye week on Sept. 23.

“The AIA allowed us to have a zero week game, so we scheduled one to give our players some rest in the middle of the season,” Maricopa Unified School District Athletic Director Mark Cisterna said.

Maricopa will enter Metro Region play following the bye week.

“I think we’re going in the right direction, and it’s just a matter of continuing with that,” Cisterna said. “I think this community is ready to compete with the larger schools. Our athletes are buying in and I think our coaches are starting to accept that we’re not a small school anymore. Personally, I’m up for the challenge, and I know our coaches are.”

The upcoming season will test what is expected to be a young Maricopa team. However, the Rams will have an opportunity to make a statement in their new conference against perennial powerhouse schools.

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Ray Carroll. Photo by William Lange

After a 10-win season, Sequoia Pathway finished second in the Canyon Athletic Association’s Division II football championship.

The top-ranked Pumas lost the title game Saturday to No. 2-ranked Heritage Academy–Mesa, 28-22, at Valley Christian High School.

Pathway trailed from the start but was able to tie up the game early in the second quarter on a 5-yard rush by Travion Bolds followed by a two-point conversion by Jon Samuels.

Heritage, however, took the 14-8 lead into halftime.

Pathway’s Ray Carroll ran 60 yards for touchdown early in the third quarter to tie the score again. In the final minute of the quarter, Heritage scored on a 12-yard pass to go ahead again, 22-14.

Again, midway through the fourth, Carroll rushed for a touchdown and Bolds scored the two-point conversion to knot things up again. Heritage, however, scored with five minutes to go, and the Pumas could not answer.

For the game, Bolds rushed for 122 yards on 15 carries, and Carroll ran seven times for 99 yards. Quarterback Arthur Silva was 3-for-12 passing for 39 yards.

Sherman Chavaria led the defense with eight tackles and three assists. Trey Anderson had six tackles and one assist, and Bryce Thurman had five tackles and four assists.

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Though the Rams ran out of steam at the end of the season, 2015 was a memorable year with a winning record as the team overcame tragedy. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School football team overcame adversity and tragedy to post the school’s first winning season since 2012. The Rams ended the season 7-3.

Even more important than the wins, the Rams gave the community a distraction from tragedy. For 10 weeks, the community rallied around Maricopa football. From their first victory over Agua Fria High School just six days after they lost teammate senior Nate Ford to a tragic traffic accident, to the final seconds of the season, the team gave the community a reason to celebrate.

Their play was inspiring, gritty and imperfect, much like the community in which they live.

In the Rams’ final game, the team came within a second of a berth in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III State Football Playoffs. As Bradshaw Mountain High School’s junior quarterback Gunner Bundrick heaved the game’s final pass through the air, the heart of a team and community sailed through the air with it. When the ball landed in the hands of Bears’ junior wide receiver Ryan Shaver, the heartbreak in the stadium was palpable. The Rams season had come to an immediate end.

However, despite missing the playoffs, Maricopa’s season should not be diminished or minimized. They overcame tragedy and helped a community heal. No trophy can ever replace that.

“I’m proud of these kids,” head coach Chris McDonald said. “As a whole we made a step up from last year. Going to the playoffs was a goal, but overall we made a positive stride. There will always be adversity in life, and the players know that, but they did a good job handling it all. The kids were inspired to play for a fallen teammate. Unfortunately, we just seemed to hit a wall at the end of the season.”

Doug Ford’s presence at the games this season was a reminder of his son Nate and an inspiration for the team. Photo by William Lange
Doug Ford’s presence at the games this season was a reminder of his son Nate and an inspiration for the team. Photo by William Lange

The team carried the spirit of Ford with them throughout the year. From the “Everyday Hero” shirts fans and players wore to honor him to the helmet, jersey and flag brought to every game, Nate was always present. It inspired the team to play for something more than themselves, and it inspired the community around them.

“The outreach has been incredible,” Nate’s father Doug Ford said. “He touched a lot of lives in a lot of places. It’s been great to see.”

As this team moves forward, they have a foundation of success to build upon. They will lose 12 seniors including starting quarterback Aaron Owens , their emotional leader and center Nikolai White, and All-State contenders at wide receiver in Johnny Johnson Jr. and Isaiah Pedro. However, there are at least 17 juniors waiting eagerly to take their places.

“We want to take the next step and build off of this year,” McDonald said. “I already have juniors texting me and wanting to get back in the weight room. They’ve had a taste of success and they want to build on it.”

Next year, the Rams will move into the 5A conference. Powerhouse high schools such as Queen Creek, Centennial and Ironwood Ridge will now be peers, and the Rams will have to dig deep to succeed. However, this is what it takes to be a successful program, and the coaching staff believes they are up to the challenge.

“Moving forward, I hope being 7-3 becomes the standard,” McDonald said. “It will be important for us to embrace being 5A as well. Doing anything different would send the wrong message.”

This story was published in the November issue of InMaricopa News.

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The Maricopa High School Rams football team lost a nail biter to the Bradshaw Mountain High School Bears on a last-second touchdown, but the scene turned ugly after a brawl broke out between the two teams after the final whistle.

The night started on a high note with each of the 12 seniors being honored before the game. As the game progressed, controversial refereeing frustrated the players, coaching staff and fans. By the time the final whistle blew, tensions were at a boiling point and a fight broke out near the north end zone.

The situation became increasingly dangerous as fans jumped the fence to get involved, but coaches and administrators were able to separate the players and escort each team to the locker room.

Parents and administrators were concerned for their safety after the game and could be heard yelling “This is a disgrace to this community.” However, the Maricopa fans were separated into the parking lot, and Bradshaw Mountain was able to leave without any injury or further incident.

“That’s the first time I have ever seen anything like that,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said as he escorted his team to the locker room.

The incident took away from what was otherwise a great football game.

The game started with the Maricopa defense forcing Bradshaw Mountain to punt, and the Rams marching down the field for a touchdown.

However, the Bears responded immediately with a touchdown of their own, and the tone was set. It was a battle to the finish.

After trading touchdowns, the Rams turned the ball over just before the half and went to the locker rooms trailing 21-14.

The third quarter was a defensive battle, but senior running back Jalen Lee found running room and broke the game open for Maricopa. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Rams held a 28-21 lead.

With just 1:30 remaining in the game, Bradshaw Mountain marched down the field and scored a touchdown. The Bears converted a two-point conversion to take a 29-28 lead.

With hope dwindling, the Rams had one more chance.

After a few short passes, senior quarterback Aaron Owens connected with senior all-purpose player Isaiah Pedro for a 42-yard touchdown. The score gave the Rams a 34-29 lead with just 26 seconds left.

“They have a great quarterback, and there’s still a lot of time for him,” Maricopa Unified School District Athletic Director Mark Cisterna said after the Rams’ touchdown.

However, the Rams gave Bradshaw Mountain great field position after kicking the ball out of bounds. Maricopa compounded the problem by getting a “sideline warning” that moved the Bears 15 yards closer.

With 5.8 seconds left, Bradshaw Mountain’s junior quarterback Gunner Bundrick heaved a pass into the back corner and connected with junior wide receiver Ryan Shaver for a touchdown. The score and ensuing two-point conversion gave the Bears a 37-34 victory.

For the Rams, the loss likely costs them a chance to go to the playoffs. There is still a chance they could stay in the top 16 when the Arizona Interscholastic Association Power Rankings and playoff seeding is released tomorrow. However, their chances are very slim after a third loss in their last four games.

For Bradshaw Mountain, the win likely clinches a spot in the playoffs for the Bears. Bradshaw Mountain entered Friday’s contest ranked 16th in the Power Rankings. After upsetting the 13th ranked Rams, it would be hard to imagine the Power Rankings keeping Bradshaw Mountain out.

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Aaron Owens and the Rams are coming off a tough loss to Vista Grande. Photo by William Lange

After losing their final section game last week, the Maricopa High School Rams football team is in a must-win situation in their playoff hopes against the Bradshaw Mountain High School (Prescott Valley) Bears Friday night.

The Rams [7-2 (4-2)] are hoping to clinch a spot in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III State Football Playoffs for the first time since 2012. The Rams, who previously ranked as high as third in the AIA Power Rankings during their 6-0 start to the season, dropped to number 13 in this week’s rankings after their loss to Vista Grande High School last Friday.

The Bears, who also lost Friday, are currently ranked 16th in the power rankings. With teams such as Vista Grande, Tempe High School and Nogales High School jockeying for a playoff spot as well, a win is crucial for both teams in Friday night’s matchup.

“This is definitely win or stay home game,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “They’re really a spitting image of what we do. There’s some things they do that we think we can attack, but I’m going to assume they’ll bring the house like every team has done the last three or four weeks and we’ll have to adjust to that.”

For Maricopa, the key to the game will be getting their offense back on track. Over the last three weeks (which as seen the Rams lose two out of three games), Maricopa’s high-powered offense has struggled to gain any momentum.

However, Bradshaw Mountain has shown defensive vulnerabilities against both passing and rushing attacks throughout the season. The Rams will look to get their balanced offense back in sync to take advantage of a defense that allows over 22 points a game on average.

In order to exploit the holes in the Bears’ defense, senior quarterback Aaron Owens will need to rediscover the magic he had to start the season. Since exploding for 537 passing yards in the team’s first game, Owens has averaged about 153 yards per game.

Senior all-purpose player Isaiah Pedro is expected to have an impact on offense as well, but senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. may still be battling injuries. Without any guarantee of Johnson being back to 100 percent healthy, Owens finding the poise he had earlier in the year is crucial to the Rams making a playoff push.

“Today we tried using flip bands and numbers (to get the offense back on track), but it just didn’t work out the way we wanted,” McDonald said. “I think there’s a lot of different things going on right now with our team. We’re doing our best to try to get it fixed.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Maricopa will need to stop Bradshaw Mountain’s junior quarterback Gunner Bundrick. The dual-threat quarterback currently leads the Bears with 1,224 passing yards and 517 rushing yards. Bundrick is the focal point of Bradshaw Mountain’s offense and has accounted for 18 of the team’s 26 total touchdowns this season.

When referencing how the Rams would contain Bundrick, McDonald said, “We’re going to come after him and we’re going to let the chips fall where they may fall.”

Friday’s regular season finale is also Senior Night, with the 12 seniors being  honored before the game.

Kick off will take place at 7 p.m. at Rams Field on the northwest corner of the Maricopa High School campus.

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Coach Chris McDonald talks a dejected Rams team through the next goals. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams football team turned the ball over five times and failed to gain any offensive momentum en route to a 49-7 loss to Vista Grande during the Homecoming game Friday night.

The tone was set early for the Rams as they fumbled the ball to set up easy touchdowns for the Spartans.

By the end of the first quarter, Maricopa trailed Vista Grande 28-0. By halftime, the Spartans held a commanding 35-0 lead, and the shell-locked Rams trotted into the locker room looking for answers on how the game got away from them so quickly.

“I can’t put my finger on [what went wrong], but it just seems like it snowballed,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “They came out tonight and were more physical than us, but it just kind of snowballed from there. I’m sick to my stomach about what transpired tonight and what the fans had to watch.”

Maricopa’s offense didn’t find much luck against the stingy Vista Grande defense in the second half either. Senior running back Jalen Lee was able to take a pitch from senior quarterback Aaron Owens for a long touchdown run, but that was the lone big play the typically high-powered Rams offense could muster.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams were able to hold the Spartans in check for most of the game. However, extremely short fields and an opportunistic game plan allowed Vista Grande to break the game open early. It only took a few offensive drives and big plays to come away with a victory.

“I’m sick to my stomach about what transpired tonight and what the fans had to watch.” – Coach McDonald

“This game does not define you,” McDonald said to his players after the game. “That score does not define who we are as a team and who you guys are as football players. I know it hurts. It hurts for me, too. We lost one of our team goals. We didn’t win section tonight. But we can still come out on Senior Night and execute the little things right, and we can still go to playoffs and accomplish that.”

Maricopa’s loss carries heavy implications for both teams. Vista Grande entered Friday’s game outside the playoff picture. The Spartans ranked 18th in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Football Power Rankings and needed to upset the eighth-ranked Rams if they had any hope of making the playoffs.

Maricopa, on the other hand, had the opportunity to clinch a section title and all but guarantee themselves a playoff spot. The loss will likely drop them out of the top 10 in the Power Rankings and make next Friday’s game against the 14th-ranked Bears of Bradshaw Mountain High School a must win.

The Maricopa High School Homecoming Court. Photo by William Lange
The Maricopa High School Homecoming Court. Photo by William Lange

 

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Eanis Olmos (40) lost his helmet while helping Johnny Smith Jr. and Nicolai White take down the quarterback last week. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School football team could earn a share of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Section I title with a win over Vista Grande High School during their Homecoming game Friday night.

The Rams will enter Friday’s game in a three way tie with Tempe and Arcadia high schools for first place in the section. If the Rams win, they will finish section play with a 5-1 record and eliminate the chances of having a worse record than any other team in the section. Arcadia and Tempe still have two section games each, and any loss would eliminate them from title contention.

There are two ways the Rams can earn a section title.

Because all three teams hold a tie breaker in the three-way, head-to-head matchup, if each team wins its remaining games, the section title would go to the team with the best overall Division III record. The one-loss Rams control their own destiny in that scenario.

Maricopa could also earn the section title if Arcadia loses because they beat Tempe. However, if Tempe loses either of its final two games, Arcadia would be in the driver’s seat.

Standing in Maricopa’s way of a potential section title and playoff berth is Vista Grande. The Spartans have been playoff contenders all year, but back-to-back losses to Tempe and Arcadia left Vista Grande in a must win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive.

The Spartans are ranked 18th, and only the top 16 will go to the playoffs.

“It’s tough keeping them focused because Homecoming brings a lot of distractions,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “We just try to preach that their 2.5 hours out here are business and go time. Let’s goof around after.”

The Rams will look to use their depth to attack a Spartans defense that only allows 13 points a game on average. Last week’s breakout star, senior running back Jalen Lee, is expected to spearhead a balanced rushing attack. The running game will be essential with senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. still slowed by a toe injury.

“They’re physical,” McDonald said of the Spartans. “They might be one of the more physical defensive fronts we’ve faced this year. They have some good athletes that can run. So they’re going to buckle up and come at us.”

Vista Grande hasn’t had the most dominant offense all year, but they grind away at opponents and walk away with close victories. In order to find success, the Rams’ front line will need to use their speed to penetrate the backfield and disrupt plays before they get started.

“They’ll line up and try to ground and pound us, if that doesn’t work they’ll go to a spread attack,” McDonald said. “They’re physical up front on both sides of the ball, so if we don’t match them physically it’ll be a long night.”

The game is set to kick off at 7 p.m. at Rams Field on northwest corner of Maricopa High School’s campus. A community tailgate will precede the game at 5 p.m., and all members of the community are welcome to participate in the event.

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MHS senior Isaiah Pedro makes a catch for a touchdown against Seton Catholic.

The Maricopa High School Rams football team improved to 7-1 (4-1) on the season with a 29-21 victory on the road against Seton Catholic High School Friday night.

Maricopa used a punishing run game and sprawling passing attack to exploit Seton’s weakness. Senior running back Jalen Lee had a breakout game with 175 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. Maricopa’s effective run game also created opportunities for senior quarterback Aaron Owens to find space in the passing game. He finished the game with 11 completions on 15 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown.

“Earlier in the season they put me at receiver, but I was struggling since it was my first year with [Maricopa],” Lee said. “I’ve been playing running back all my life. I was telling (coach) McDonald every day to put me at running back, and he saw me improving, so he finally put me at running back.”

Seton Catholic was able to march down the field on its first possession and score a touchdown, but the Sentinels would have trouble piecing together drives throughout the rest of the game. Maricopa’s defense forced two turnovers and five punts throughout the game.

On the other side of the field, the offense got into a great rhythm in the first half and scored on the Rams’ first four drives. Even without senior wide receive and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. at 100 percent health, the Rams were efficient and aggressive as they moved the ball down the field.

The second half, on the other hand, was marred by mistakes. On multiple occasions the Rams drove down the field and put themselves in scoring position before a penalty, turnover or mental error caused them to lose ground. The missed opportunities kept Seton Catholic in the game, but the offense did enough to earn the victory.

Box Score
Maricopa        10  13  0   6 – 29
Seton Catholic  6   7   0   8 – 21

“I’m happy for these seniors that they beat Seton. They haven’t done it before,” MHS football head coach said. “I told the kids we have to capitalize on the opportunities, though. I’m tired of these 50 yard drives, and then we have a [mistake] that limits us. We’re just beating ourselves when we’re doing this, but overall I’m very happy. We had some guys step up.”

Maricopa’s win puts the team back on track after losing their first game of the season against Arcadia High School last week. The loss ended the Rams’ run at a perfect season, but the team is still in good position to earn a playoff spot.

“I felt good coming into the game,” McDonald said. “We all needed to get refocused. Sometimes it’s good to get your butt kicked since you learn more from losses than you do from wins. We’re too good of a team not to recover from that.”

The Rams will host Vista Grande High School next Friday for the school’s Homecoming game. Vista Grande is currently ranked in playoff position in the AIA Power Rankings, and the Rams will be looking to make a statement in their last section game of the season.

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The Maricopa Rams are working back from their first loss of the season. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams look to rebound from their first loss of the season as they visit the Seton Catholic High School Sentinels.

The Rams [6-1 (3-1)] will enter Friday’s game atop Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Section I, but after losing to Arcadia high School on Friday, Maricopa needs to secure each section win down the stretch to have a chance to stay the section’s top team.

Seton [2-6 (1-3)] enters as the last place team in the section, but the Sentinels have confidence coming off their first section win of the season against McClintock High School last weekend.

“In all honesty it doesn’t matter who we’re playing this week; I want to see if our kids can rebound after what unfolded Friday,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “Regardless of what they’re record is, they’re a team who embarrassed us at homecoming last year, so hopefully we can repay the favor. That’s the message we want to send, but I mostly want to see how we respond.”

Maricopa High School football head coach Chris McDonald is watching how his team responds to last week's loss. Photo by William Lange
Maricopa High School football head coach Chris McDonald is watching how his team responds to last week’s loss. Photo by William Lange

The focus for Maricopa will be getting their offense back on track. The Rams torched their first five opponents while averaging 49.5 points per game and 479.8 yards per game. Over the last two games however, the Rams have averaged just over 14 points on 316 yards of total offense.

Maricopa will look to use their balanced attack to exploit holes in a relatively stout Seton Catholic defense. The Sentinels allow only 370 yards per game and rarely allow teams to score more than 30 points. However, they have shown vulnerability to big plays through the air and on the ground.

“Coach (Gary) Galante is from Brophy and he does a good job with defense,” McDonald said. “They’ll always be fundamentally sound. The most important thing for us is to find a rhythm offensively. I’m hoping we can come out and establish the run game and go from there.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Maricopa needs to stop senior quarterback Garrett Boyd. Seton Catholic relies heavily on their passing game for success, and Boyd currently ranks second in the section with 1,351 yards.

Boyd isn’t the most accurate passer the Rams have seen, but he does complete nearly 60 percent of his throws. He spreads the ball around as well. Senior wide receivers Brandon Garcia and Luke Zuluaga both have over 300 receiving yards, while junior wide receiver Jacob Terrill is on the verge of eclipsing 300 as well.

Johnny Johnson Jr. and the Rams had difficulty gaining yardage last week against Arcadia. Photo by William Lange
Johnny Johnson Jr. and the Rams had difficulty gaining yardage last week against Arcadia. Photo by William Lange

“They have a good quarterback,” McDonald said. “Garret Boyd is one of their better players. Their receiver, Luke Zaluaga is, I think, probably the best all-around player on their team.”

The game will take place Friday night at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and the stadium is located on the southwest corner of the campus at 1150 N. Dobson Road in Chandler.

Sophomore Jesse Gaines is playing football and running cross country for Maricopa High School at the same time. Photo by Adam Wolfe

By the time he graduates, sophomore Jesse Gaines may go down as one of the greatest athletes in Maricopa High School’s history.

Cross country and football could not be more different. Football requires aggression, speed and strength. Cross country requires patience, endurance and will-power. Most athletes would never consider participating in both, especially at the same time.

Jesse Gaines is not most athletes.

As a freshman, Gaines crushed MHS freshman track and field records in the 1,600- and 800-meter runs, and he earned a bronze medal at the state meet as part of the 4×800-meter relay team. Over the summer, Gaines could be seen running mile after mile through Maricopa in triple-digit heat.

That alone would gas out most athletes, but for Gaines it was just part of his summer routine that also included football practice and weight training.

“I just feel my body and see how it’s doing,” Gaines said. “I only run (cross country) on weekends. My (football) coach is against it, but my body isn’t, I guess.”

During last year’s track season, then-head coach Brad Chamberlain described Gaines as the most natural runner he’d ever seen.

His cross country coach, Heather Abel, echoed that sentiment: “Jesse doesn’t get to train with us, but he is such a natural athlete that he can run on his own. He’s been showing up on Saturdays. We’ve had him (at meets) twice, and he’s done very well.”

Gaines finished in the top five, thus earning a medal, in those Saturday competitions. Abel said Gaines is a threat to medal at every meet, and he could contend for a state championship if he ran cross country full-time.

Chamberlain and Abel aren’t the only MHS coaches who recognize Jesse’s athletic gifts.

“Jesse is a special athlete,” head football coach Chris McDonald said. “He is a different type of athlete. From a physical standpoint, he’s got all the tools. We’re still working with him on understanding football.”

Gaines is quarterback for the Rams’ junior varsity team and ran for a touchdown on the varsity team.

Much like the cross country coaches, McDonald wishes Gaines would focus his talents on just one sport. However, recognizing how gifted Gaines is, McDonald supports his decision to pursue both.

“Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t put as much wear and tear on his body as he does,” McDonald said. “Cross country and football are completely different. They’re on complete opposite ends of each other, but he’s good at both, and he’s going to excel at both.”

For Gaines, it isn’t about being a star or trailblazer.

“I’m a pretty good runner, and I like to play football,” Gaines said. “I thought this was a great opportunity to get conditioned.”

This story was published in the October issue of InMaricopa News.

The Rams were exhausted and downcast during their first loss of the season. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams football team suffered its first loss of the season against the Arcadia High School Titans Friday night, 31-10.

The Rams started strong by scoring on their first two drives to take a 10-0 lead, but could never get any traction after that.

“Our defense played well enough to win this game,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonalds said. “But what bothers me the most is we didn’t play this whole game. I knew [Arcadia] would be desperate for a win. The only thing we can do from here is take this as a learning lesson. We’re 6-1. We’re still in the driver’s seat to do some good things.”

The Rams’ high-powered offense looked lost for most of the game. Senior quarterback Aaron Owens was able to connect with senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. for a touchdown early, but dropped passes and lack of accuracy stalled nearly every drive after that.

Despite holding a 10-3 lead at halftime, the Rams came out in the second half with very little intensity. Arcadia’s stout defensive front harassed Owens in the backfield all night. Other than the occasional first down run from sophomore D’Angelo Edgerton, the Rams running game was largely ineffective.

The game’s turning point came when the Rams punted their second drive of the second half away. Arcadia’s junior wide receiver Grant Loftin called for a fair catch on the punt but was hit anyway. The ball bounced away and was picked up by Arcadia senior safety Kevin Hill. He returned it for a touchdown.

After a lengthy meeting among the referees, the call was upheld despite adamant protests from Maricopa’s coaching staff.

However, according to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s guidelines, only the player who signaled for a fair catch is unable to advance the ball. Any other player on the field may pick up the ball and attempt a return.

The touchdown visibly deflated the Maricopa sideline. Arcadia took advantage of the momentum swing and reeled off three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Box Score

Arcadia        0   3  7  21

Maricopa    10  0  0  0

“We just really haven’t been efficient the last two weeks,” McDonald said. “Just a lot of mental errors. We had receivers dropping footballs all over the place. We had missing blocking assignments. It was just an ugly game from an offensive standpoint. Our defense gave us an opportunity to win the game, and we just didn’t come to play.”

The loss will likely drop Maricopa in the AIA Power Rankings, but they could still be one of the top seeds in the AIA Division III State Football Playoffs.

“They need to know the sun comes up again tomorrow,” McDonald said. “They’ve still had a good start to the season so far. I told them, ‘I hope this humbles you guys.’”

Maricopa will be back on the field next Friday against Seton Catholic High School in Tempe. The Sentinels are just 2-6 on the season, but they are coming off an impressive 8-7 win over McClintock High School.

 

Maricopa stats

Passing: Aaron Owens 16-34 for 167 yards

Rushing: D’Angelo Edgerton 58 yards

Receiving: David Owens and Johnny Johnson Jr. 58 yards

 

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Johnny Johnson Jr. is fourth in the state in reception yardage. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams [5-0 (2-0)] are looking to keep their undefeated season alive against the McClintock High School Chargers [2-3 (1-1)] on the road in Tempe Friday night.

With the first half of the season in the books, the Rams have used a balanced offense and stubborn defense to remain unbeaten. Their early domination has catapulted them to the No. 5 ranking in the initial Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Power Rankings. If the Rams can stay in a similar or better position in the rankings, they will be one of the top seeds in the AIA Division III state playoffs and be awarded a home game for the first round.

“I don’t know if they’re aware of [the rankings],” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “We just need to take care of business one week at a time and we can’t focus on that. It’s fantastic we were fifth, but that can all change in a hurry, so the focus needs to be on what we can control. We need to focus on winning every Friday. That’s all we can control.”

The Rams want to stay balanced on offense as they have all year. Senior quarterback Aaron Owens, who currently ranks second in Division III Section I with 68 completions on 102 attempts for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns, is expected to be behind center, and the recent emergence of the team’s running game (which has featured eight different ball carriers this season) is also expected to be a major factor in the Rams’ potent offense.

For McClintock to have any chance of upsetting Maricopa they’ll have to slow down senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. Johnson currently has the fourth most receiving yards in the state with 613 yards on 34 receptions. He also plays a major role on Maricopa’s defense and special teams. He ranks fifth in the state with four interceptions, and he’s a threat to return any kick for a touchdown.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams want to maintain their momentum after a dominant performance against Tempe High School last Friday. McClintock’s offense has been sporadic throughout the year, but they have shown the ability to break big plays and rack up points. The Rams will look to their defensive line to win the battle in the trenches and slow down the athletic Chargers.

“They’re a lot like Tempe,” McDonald said. “They’ve got some athletes on the perimeter. They have a first-year head coach, and he’s doing a good job. They play physical and they play hard. They play for each other, and if they come out and play physical, we’ll be in for a tough game.”

For the Chargers, a win over a top five team could turn their season around. McClintock enters this week ranked 28 in the initial Power Rankings, but they’ll be looking to showcase their potential and make a statement at home.

The game will kick off Friday night at 7 p.m. at McClintock High School. The stadium is located in the northeast section of the high school’s campus at 1830 E. Del Rio Drive, Tempe.

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Nikolai White (55) forces a fumble in the end zone. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams defense tormented the Tempe High School Buffaloes offense in route to a 33-7 victory Friday night.

The Rams ended the game with an offensive flurry, but it was the defense that set the tone for the game. During the first half, Maricopa’s offense was nearly non-existent. The team struggled to move the ball on the ground, and senior quarterback Aaron Owens was out of sync with his receivers.

However, the defense came into this with memories of Tempe “dancing” on Maricopa’s midfield M, and they took out a year’s worth of frustration on the Buffaloes.

In the first half, the Rams defense caused two turnovers and forced three punts on Tempe’s five offensive possessions. The Rams defensive line was able to penetrate the oversized Buffaloes and wreak havoc in the backfield. The defensive pressure was enough to shut down the Buffaloes running game completely and cause junior quarterback Damian Triana to fumble the ball in his own end zone. The Rams recovered the fumble for a touchdown, and the six points would be the only points scored from either team in the first half.

“[Tempe] had a lot of problems offensively tonight,” MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald said. “We really got them out of rhythm and caused a lot of silly penalties. I think that really had to do with our defense playing really well. They tried to find an identity tonight, and we didn’t let them do that.”

The third quarter remained a defensive battle, but senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson Jr. returned a Tempe punt for a touchdown and give the Rams a 13-0 lead.

Tempe climbed back into the game after an ill-advised play from Aaron Owens led to a fumble and a Buffaloes touchdown. However, that would be the last time Maricopa would show weakness.

In the fourth quarter, Owens exploded for three touchdowns. He broke away for a 45-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and he added two touchdown passes as the game winded down. He finished the game completing 15 passes on 24 attempts for 155 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. He also had 6 rushes for 27 yards and a touchdown. The Rams also totaled 155 yards rushing.

Despite giving up a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, Maricopa’s defense stayed resilient and shut down the Buffaloes’ balanced attack. By the end of the game, the defense had three interceptions, one fumble recovery and two forced turnovers on downs.

“We’ve got a really good defensive line coach,” McDonald said. “On top of that, we feel really comfortable with a six- or seven-man rotation. So as the game goes on, we’re rotating bodies in and out on the defensive line and they’re staying fresh. I think down the stretch, teams have guys going both ways and we’re subbing guys out, we have a platoon on the line.”

After last year’s close defeat and postgame antics, this victory meant a lot the team and to the coaching staff.

“This win is very satisfying,” McDonald said. “We’re halfway through the season now and we’re starting really good. Our offense didn’t show up for the first half and we’re still winning games… Our kids have confidence. We came out and we out-hit them. Our kids have a swag to them, and they’re starting to feel the momentum.”

For the players, the game was a chance to get revenge on a team they felt heavily disrespected them on their home field.

“It was very important (to beat Tempe),” Aaron Owens said. “After last year what they did with the last play call of the game and what they did after the game on our ‘M’; it was a revenge game for us, and we came out here and dominated. It felt really good. It’s our house and we have to defend it.”

With the win Friday night, the Rams move to 5-0 on the season and 2-0 in section play.

The Rams will be back on the road next week as they travel to Tempe to take on the McClintock High School Chargers. The team will return to Maricopa the following week to host the Arcadia High School Titans in a game that could have serious playoff implications.

 

 

 

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Andrew Earle and the Rams line are ready to clear a path against Tempe Friday night. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School Rams will host the Tempe High School Buffaloes in an emotional section clash Friday night.

Last year, Tempe won a close game 49-41 over Maricopa at Rams Field in the opening game of the 2014 season. Close losses are part of a learning process for young teams, but watching members of the Buffaloes team dance on the “M” at midfield after the game upset many of the players.

That includes 12 seniors on the 2015 roster who played in the game last year, and they haven’t forgotten the insulting gesture.

“They’ve had this game circled on the calendar after what transpired last year, so they’re looking forward to it,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “It was a very tight game that went back and forth. We came up on the short end of the stick and there were some post-game things that transpired on our field, and our players remember it.”

On offense, the Rams will look to continue the balanced attack that has been so effective to start the year.

A high ankle sprain to sophomore running back Cameron Sanders could still be an issue, but the emergence of junior running back Maverick Agram last week against Apache Junction gives the offense plenty of confidence in both the passing and rushing attack.

The key for the offense will be the front line opening holes for running backs and providing senior quarterback Aaron Owens time to pass the ball. Tempe’s defensive line is expected to be larger than the Rams front five, but the experience of the Maricopa line could be the difference in the trenches.

“They have a line that’s bigger than us, but this is a big game for our kids,” McDonald said. “We’re very similar teams with similar styles. They have athletes just like we do.”

For the defense, the key will be slowing down the Buffaloes passing game. Tempe Junior quarterback Damian Triana is a dual-threat player who leads his team in both passing and rushing yards. The Rams defense will look to disrupt his rhythm and prevent him from reaching senior wide receiver Bilal Muhammad, who has hauled in 17 passes and three touchdowns so far this season.

“The quarterback is a good athlete, and Bilal Muhammad is a good player, too,” McDonald said. “They’ve got plenty of athletes. They have some pieces that can hurt you.”

Friday night’s game will be the first Rams home game since the season opener nearly a month ago. Maricopa is one of just five unbeaten teams left in Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III football. The Rams want to reach the halfway point of their season with a 5-0 overall record and a 2-0 record in section play.

Tempe, on the other hand, has started the season just 1-3. However, just like Apache Junction High School last week, the Buffaloes will be playing with renewed life as they enter section play for the first time this season.

“This week we need to stay focused at practice,” senior all-purpose player Isaiah Pedro said. “This one is going to be an emotional game. We’ll take it to heart, but we’re going to go out there and do our job and hopefully we’ll get the win.”

Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Rams Field on the high school campus at 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave. in Maricopa. Halftime will be the official launch of events for Homecoming, which is Oct. 23. 

The Rams celebrate their fourth win in a row. Photo by William Lange
The Rams celebrate their fourth win in a row. Photo by William Lange

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Junior running back Maverick Agram ran away from Apache Junction's defense Friday netting 146 yards and four touchdowns in the Rams' 60-34 win. Photo by William Lange

Junior running back Maverick Agram led an explosive offense rushing for 146 yards and four touchdowns in Maricopa High School’s 60-34 win over Apache Junction High School on the road Friday. 

The Rams (4-0, 1-0) played without injured starting running back Cameron Sanders and defensive back Jalen Lee. Like they have all year, the Rams turned to their bench and relied on their depth to overcome the injuries.

The defense got off to a slow start and gave up some big plays in the first half, but halftime adjustments helped Maricopa slow down Apache Junction’s (0-4, 0-1) powerful running game enough to take control.

The standout performance of the night came from Agram, whose nickname is “Mighty Mouse,” who took full advantage of his opportunity. 

“Maverick is a kid that has been a scout (junior varsity) guy,” MHS head coach Chris McDonald said. “He just kept running so hard that we [wanted to give him a chance]. We told Cameron [Sanders] the last thing he wanted to do as a player was open the door for another player, and that’s what happened.”

The offense was firing on all cylinders from the start. After the defense forced a punt in Apache Junction’s opening drive, the Rams offense struck quickly when senior quarterback Aaron Owens connected with senior wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr. for a 57-yard touchdown. Maricopa settled for a 6-0 lead after the extra point hit the cross bar.

The defense stifled the Prospectors’ offense and put the ball back in Owens’ hands. Much like the Rams first drive, the offense struck quickly and Owens connected with senior all-purpose player Isaiah Pedro for a 33-yard touchdown pass and 13-0 lead.

Apache Junction showed they wouldn’t go down easy as senior wide receiver Tanner Garcia took the kickoff nearly the entire length of the field for a touchdown. The Prospectors converted a two-point conversion and cut the lead to five points.

Maricopa’s next drive foreshadowed the rest of the game. The Rams countered Apache Junction’s score and halted the Prospectors’ momentum. Agram powered through the Apache Junction defense for his first touchdown of the season, and the Rams led 20-8.

The game’s physicality increased, and after a short shoving match, Maricopa sophomore wide receiver Longman Pyne was called for a personal foul and removed from the game. In an odd moment on the next drive, Pyne re-entered the game, but the referees quickly sent him off the field.

Due to the penalty, Pyne will be suspended for the Rams’ next game against Tempe High School.

 

The Rams defense forced three turnovers in the first half, but they also gave Apache Junction the opportunity for big plays. The Prospectors missed a few chances, and the teams traded two more touchdowns as the Rams took a 34-22 halftime lead.

“We had to step it up in the first half, but we didn’t,” Pedro said. “In the second half, coach had to nip it in the bud that we had to play better. The game was going to rely on the defensive backs and the defensive line making tackles, and fortunately we were able to do that.”

A fumble by the Rams on their second play of the third quarter led to an Apache Junction touchdown, cutting the deficit to six points.

Maricopa responded with a touchdown of their own before Apache Junction scored for the final time.

The Rams defense stepped up in the second half and held Apache Junction to just 12 points, and Maricopa’s high-powered offense scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“I knew we were going to get their best shot,” McDonald said. “I was disappointed we let them back in the game after the kick return. I think offensively we came out and got up on them real early, which is what we wanted to do. Then we had a special teams breakdown that let them back in the game and gave them momentum.”

The offense exploded for nearly 500 yards of total offense. Owens completed 12 of 24 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

Pedro excelled on both sides of the ball. He hauled in five catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns and made six tackles and two interceptions. 

Fellow two-way player Johnson Jr. complemented two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, and seven tackles with six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown.

The return of senior center and team captain Nikolai White brought stability back to the offensive line. The undersized Rams dominated the Prospectors front line, leading to 260 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 36 carries.

“We’re doing what we’re doing, and we’re beating who’s on our schedule,” McDonald said.

The Rams will try to avenge a 49-41 loss at home to Tempe High Friday when they host the Buffaloes at 7 p.m. Friday.

“This week we just need to stay focused at practice,” Pedro said. “This one is going to be an emotional game. You take it to heart, but we’re just going to go out there and do our job, and hopefully we’ll get the win.”

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MHS senior center Nikolai White is set to be back on the field after injury knocked him out of two games. Photo by William Lange

After starting the season with three straight out-of-conference wins, the Maricopa High School football team will travel to Apache Junction High School Friday night to open up section play against the Prospectors.

After an impressive start to the season, both Maxpreps.com and The Arizona Republic have ranked the Rams as the 10th best team in Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Division III football. Maricopa has been able to find success by imposing their will on defense and spreading the field with their powerful offense. Injuries to key players have been an issue, but it hasn’t slowed down the team’s progress.

Apache Junction, on the other hand, has struggled to start the year. Historically, the Prospectors have been a competitive team with great size. In recent years, the team has struggled, but they still seem to be just a few pieces away from being a contender. Injuries have hurt Apache Junction in non-section play, but a powerful running game and large offensive and defensive lines make them a tough matchup for the Rams.

Despite Maricopa’s early success and Apache Junction’s early struggles, MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald knows it can all change in an instant once section play starts.

“They pose a lot of threats,” McDonald said. “I know they’re [winless], but they really aren’t that bad of a team. They’re very physical and they’ve had some injuries that have hurt them at some pretty important positions. But it’s the first section game, so it’s kind of a renewed life for any team that’s struggled in the offseason. Really everything hinges on section play, so I’m sure they’re going to hit the reset button and give us their best shot.”

For the Rams defense, which has only allowed 14 points over the last two games, the key will be to shut down the Prospectors running game. Maricopa will have to use their speed to infiltrate the gaps against a much larger Apache Junction team.

The Prospectors have two running backs that are 6-foot-2 and weigh over 180 pounds, and they are protected by a front line with each member being larger than 6 feet tall and weighing over 250 pounds. Maricopa will look to hit the running backs in the backfield before they can build up momentum and use their size as an advantage.

“They have certain individuals that are bigger than us,” McDonald said. “They have two platoons so they have kids that don’t go both ways and they’ll be rested. They’re big kids and they’re scrappy. They’re going to play hard and they’ll hit. They’re very physical.”

In the early part of the season, the Rams have struggled a bit containing talented running backs. In week one, Agua Fria High School senior running back Chris Cofield had over 200 rushing yards. The last two weeks have seen drastic improvements, but Maricopa’s defense has still shown vulnerability to big plays.

Last week against Rincon High School, the Rams shut out the Rangers, but senior running back Dahrian Harris-Mesh still broke through for nearly 100 rushing yards. McDonald and the coaching staff will look to address their vulnerability to the running game heading into Friday night.

“We have to stop the run,” McDonald said. “If we can stop the run we’ll be OK. We need to make them one-dimensional, so we want to get our safeties involved in the run support and fill in the allies. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”

On offense, the Rams should receive a boost with team captain and senior center Nikolai White returning from an ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last two weeks. White’s return will provide the offensive line a bit more consistency than they’ve had over the last two games.

The offense will also see a return of senior quarterback Aaron Owens. Though it is still unknown why Owens missed last week’s game against Rincon, the “team issue” has been resolved and he is expected to start behind center Friday night.

However, after throwing for 336 yards and four touchdowns against Rincon, senior quarterback Isaiah Pedro is also expected to play behind center in various offensive packages throughout the night.

“They’ll both be rotating,” McDonald said. “They both do some good things, so we’ll have some certain packages we’ll run with Pedro in there and go from there.”

Maricopa will look to maintain the balanced offensive attack they have developed throughout the year. Apache Junction’s defense has been vulnerable to big plays and rushing yards early on.

The Prospectors have allowed a 100 yard rusher from each team they’ve played so far, and have given up 122 points over their first three games. However, Maricopa’s leading rusher, sophomore Cameron Sanders, is nursing a high ankle sprain, so the Rams will look to exploit Apache Junction’s defense wherever they can.

“As a coach, I like to keep it balanced,” McDonald said. “My job as an offensive coach is to move the chains, so I’m going to do whatever works. I’m going to take what they’re giving us and not run it into their teeth just to be balanced.”

The game will kickoff at 7 p.m. at Apache Junction High School. The stadium is located on campus at 2525 S. Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction.