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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.

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.”



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.

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

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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.

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