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Starting at quarterback Isaiah Pedro threw for 336 yards and rushed for 11 more. Photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe

Maricopa High School was missing several regular starters Friday night against Rincon University High School, but the Rams still managed to blow out the Rangers 56 to 0.

The shutout was in large part due to the stellar job the Rams defense did against the Rangers’ running game. Rincon had only seven first downs throughout the night, and, despite entering the red zone twice, never put any points on the board.

“We knew that if we could shut down No. 2, they would have a hard time throwing the ball on us,” MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald said. “We just mathematically tried to outnumber them in the box.”

The Rams’ offense was without team captain and starting center Nikolai White for the second straight week. White has been bothered by an ankle injury, but hopes to return next week against Apache Junction.

More noticeably, the Rams were missing another key piece of their game plan when starting quarterback and defensive back Aaron Owens didn’t make the trip with the team. McDonald stated they had a “team issue,” but he would not disclose any more information on the matter. It is unclear at this time how long Owens will be absent from the team. Without Owens, the offense didn’t look as crisp as expected for the first quarter.

Senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson Jr. did break away for a 48 yard touchdown run on the team’s first offensive play, and sophomore running back Cameron Sanders followed suit with a rushing touchdown of his own, but a muffed punt return and failed series kept Rincon in the game for the first 12 minutes. Trailing by just 13 points in the second quarter, Rincon drove the ball into the Maricopa red zone.

The Rams defense held strong at the 5-yard line, and the Rangers were forced to attempt a field goal. The kick was blocked and recovered by Johnson at the Rams’ 2-yard line. Senior quarterback Isaiah Pedro put the team’s slow offensive start behind him and led the team down the field for a touchdown. The series culminated in a 46-yard touchdown pass from Pedro to Johnson.

The Rams took a 21-point lead after junior wide receiver Zachary Bachelder faked an extra point and threw a pass to junior running back Claytin Valenzuela for a two-point conversion. From that point on, the Rams stepped on the gas pedal and didn’t let up. By halftime, the Rams led 35 to 0.

In the second half, Rincon would only have one successful drive. Maricopa’s defense was able to shut down Rincon’s senior running back Dahrian Harris-Mesh, and the Rangers only reached the red zone one time. The drive ended with a turnover on downs. The Rams would add two more touchdowns in the third quarter and another in the fourth.

Due to Arizona Interscholastic Association mercy rules, the clock kept running for nearly the entire second half. The game ended just two hours after it began with the Rams claiming the 56-point shutout victory. Pedro overcame early game struggles and finished with a tremendous night. He completed 13 of 15 pass attempts for 336 yards and four touchdowns. He had 11 rushing yards on three attempts and stellar defensive play throughout the game as well.

“I think I did a good job tonight,” Pedro said. “Our line gave us a lot of time to throw the ball and run the ball as well. Cameron [Sanders] and D’Angelo [Edgerton] played one heck of a game, and all the receivers ran crisp routes all the way around. I just dumped it to them when I could.”

Coach McDonald has praised Pedro as one of his best players since the pre-season. With Owens unavailable for the game, it was an easy choice to start him at quarterback.

“He can come in and we won’t miss a beat,” McDonald said. “Like I’ve said, he the most versatile football player that we have. We can put him anywhere, and I have complete trust in his ability.”

Other standout performances included team captain Johnny Johnson Jr., who caught four passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. He also had three rushes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Junior wide receiver David Owens caught 4 passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while senior wide receiver Jalen Lee only caught one pass, but he wove his way to an 81-yard gain that set up a Maricopa touchdown. The Rams gave many players opportunities to run the ball, but Sanders, a sophomore running back, made the most of his time with the ball. Sanders continued his streak of good performances with 53 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.

Efficiency was the name of the game for Maricopa on offense Friday night. The Rams came with a balanced attack against Rincon. The offense rushed the ball 17 times and nearly matched it with 15 passes. Despite running just 32 plays, the Rams totaled 558 yards and 56 points.

For the second week in a row, the defense was dominant as well. However, the Rams will need to dig deep to keep this momentum as they head into divisional games this week. Next Friday, Maricopa will travel to Apache Junction High School to take on the Prospectors. Apache Junction lost its first three games of the season but has a history of being a competitive team, and the Rams should expect to see much of the same from the Prospectors this year.

 

 

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Luis Elizondo saw the Rams' struggles with the kicking game and volunteered his services. Photo by William Lange.

By Adam Wolfe

 

Senior kicker Luis Elizondo joined the Maricopa High School Rams football team during the second week of the season in order to turn around the team’s lackluster kicking game.

As a junior, Elizondo showed interest in kicking for the Rams, but nothing came of it. As the team gathered for summer workouts, he again elected not to participate. He even chose to stay away during the first few weeks of practices.

Then, as he watched the first game from the stands, he saw four kickoffs go out of bounds and two extra points go wide. In that moment, something reignited his interest in the team, and Elizondo – a young man of few words – approached the coaching staff.

“He’s a kid that expressed interest in kicking for me last year, but all he did was express interest,” MHS football Head Coach Chris McDonald said. “It was a situation where I hadn’t seen him all summer, and I don’t know if he got cold feet because it’s football and it’s new to him, but he came out to the first game and saw what transpired. Then he came to me and expressed interest again.”

Despite the kicking woes for the Rams, Coach McDonald was unwilling to just give a roster spot to Elizondo. He had missed months of work with the team. He would have to earn his spot like everyone else.

“I said, ‘Well, if you’re really serious about this, you have to put in 10 practices before [he could be part of the team],’” McDonald reflected. “I told him to show up at certain times and he showed up and worked his tail off for 10 straight practices. Then he got out there and did what he did.”

Elizondo has continued his work with the team into week three of the season, and McDonald expects him to remain an important part of the kicking game for the remainder of the season.

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The Rams will travel to Tucson Friday prepared to take down the Rincon Rangers. Photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe

 

The Rincon High School Rangers are coming off their first win of the season, but the Maricopa Rams are still a heavy favorite heading into Friday night’s matchup in Tucson.

The Rams saw their offensive production drop by 50 percent last week. They still managed a win big, but much of the credit goes to the defense and special teams units that dominated most of the game.

This week, the Rams are expected to spread the field a bit more and bring back their balanced attack. For Rincon, the key will be to get their running game going or it could be a long night for the Rangers. After three games, Rincon has been outscored 144 to 40, and they haven’t seen an offense as potentially explosive as Maricopa’s yet.

“I don’t think they can cover us so we’re going to attack them,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “Hopefully our receivers got the memo about blocking for each other. Poor blocks showed on film so we’ve been working on that, but we’re going to spread them out and see what they can do.”

Injuries could present a problem for Maricopa on offense. The Rams could be without starting center and team captain Nikolai White again. He is a game-time decision with a hurt ankle. If he can’t go, it’s likely the Rams will see a lineman rotation similar to what they did against Shadow Mountain High School.

“We’ve got two or three new linemen coming in and playing,” McDonald said. “The chemistry isn’t set. We’re still trying to finalize that chemistry, and we never seem to be able to get over the hump because we always have one guy out or we’re having to put a left guard at right guard and we haven’t had the ability to let kids get comfortable playing one position.”

Maricopa’s line will need to provide more time for senior quarterback Aaron Owens to throw the ball. He was forced to scramble more against Shadow Mountain than he had in the Rams’ previous game against Agua Fria High School. The result was 400 fewer passing yards for Owens.

According to McDonald, getting consistency and chemistry back into the offense is a key for the Rams moving forward. On defense, Maricopa will look to shut down Rincon’s running game. The Rangers haven’t shown much of a passing game in their first three games, so getting pressure on the running backs early in the backfield will be the key.

“They’ve got a pretty good running back, and he’s a bigger kid with a long stride so we need to hit him in the backfield before he gets going,” McDonald said. “If we can get to him, from a defensive standpoint, we should be fine. We’ll be down a couple guys, so we need some other guys to step up like they did in Shadow Mountain.”

The Rams are expected to win Friday night, but despite Rincon only winning two games last year (one by forfeit) and no games in 2013, the Rangers should not be overlooked.

Neither team has had a winning record since 2012, but both teams are looking to break recent trends and turn their programs around.

The game will kickoff at 7 p.m. at Rincon High School’s stadium at 421 N. Arcadia Blvd. in Tucson.

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Aaron Owens (#6) will definitely be using his tickets to a Cardinals game this fall.

Maricopa High School quarterback Aaron Owens was “flattered” when he heard he was being honored by the Arizona Cardinals for his performance Sept. 4 against Agua Fria.

Aaron Owens
Aaron Owens

“Just working hard and getting to this point is really a blessing,” he said. Owens’ total of 537 yards was tops in Arizona and second-best in the country last week. That earned him the Wells Fargo Player of the Week honors from the Cardinals. “I didn’t know I was going to throw for that many passing yards,” Owens said. “I have to give it to my line. They did a good job, and the wide receivers made big plays.”

Adam Richman, community relations coordinator for the Cardinals, arrived during lunch Friday with cheerleaders Kristen and Kaileigh bringing a glass trophy and “goodies” for Owens. The goodies included two Cardinal shirts and a hat plus two tickets to a Thursday game Dec. 10 against the Minnesota Vikings. At that game, Owens will be honored on the field by the Birdwell family, Richman said.

Tamara Owens, Aaron’s mother, said she was excited for him when he told about the honor, but now she wants to see him work even harder as the Rams go into their second game, a road contest against Shadow Mountain tonight. Richman said Phoenix sports media and Cardinals staff members choose Arizona’s top high school player and top high school coach every week. He and members of the cheer squad make two trips every Friday for the presentations.

Aaron Owens was second in the nation in passing yards last week. Photo by William Lange

Two Maricopa Rams football players have received national recognition from MaxPreps.com for their performances on the field last week. MaxPreps tracks high school sports across the country, and weekly posts the outstanding stats.

Maricopa High School senior quarterback Aaron Owens was second on the passing-yardage list after the team’s defeat of Agua Fria. Owens was 23 of 28 for 537 yards, six touchdowns in the 53-46 win. He was behind only Alex Huston of Glendale High School in Springfield, Missouri, who had 555 yards passing.

Senior wide receiver Johnny Johnson Jr. was fourth in the country in receiving yards. He had nine catches for 283 yards and three touchdowns. View the MaxPrep stats at http://t.maxpreps.com/1KMbEae

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The Maricopa Rams are prepping for their second game without at least one of their captains. Photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School Rams will be facing the Shadow Mountain Matadors without the services of wide receiver and team captain Johnny Johnson Jr.

Johnson led Maricopa with 287 receiving yards, an interception and four total touchdowns in the team’s opening game against Agua Fria Friday night. However, Johnson was removed from the game by referees early in the fourth quarter after allegedly spiking the ball following an interception he returned for his fourth touchdown of the night.

According to Arizona Interscholastic Association, the excessive celebration warrants a one-game suspension. The loss of Johnson takes away a deep threat on offense and one of the team’s top defensive backs on defense.

“Not having Johnny Johnson for this game obviously puts us at more of a disadvantage than we could be,” MHS football head coach Chris McDonald said. “We’re not at full strength without an impact player like him, so somebody else will have to step up and fill the role. [Shadow Mountain] likes to throw more than they like to run, so it hurts us even more since we’re losing one of our best cover guys.”

Seniors Aaron Owens and Isaiah Pedro will be asked to cover Johnson’s position on defense, but the duo could have their hands full with senior wide receiver Jake Welsheimer. The standout senior for the Matadors has 12 receptions for 262 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

During last week’s game against Browne High School, Welsheimer caught six passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Shadow Mountain is a pass-heavy team, and the potent aerial attack is sure to test the Rams secondary.

SMHS junior quarterback Darion Spottsville has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes on the season, and hasn’t thrown an interception in 45 attempts. In last week’s win over Browne, Spottsville completed 10 passes out of 17 attempts for 266 yards and five touchdowns.

As good as the passing game is for Shadow Mountain; their running game has been a weakness early in the season. Despite beating Browne 49-6 over the weekend, running backs produced only 26 yards on 16 carries. In their season opening game against Nogales, the Matadors pieced together just five yards on 13 carries en route to a 31-18 defeat.

For the Rams, it will be important for the defense to put pressure on Spottsville and contain Welsheimer. Coming off a performance where they gave up over 200 rushing yards to Agua Fria, the Rams will look for improvements along the front line.

“The thing that we need to address is the rushing yards. We gave up way too many,” McDonald said. “Going into the game we knew they would be bigger than us by a lot, but in the scheme of things, when you look at a team like Agua Fria that ran as a spread offense, no huddle, we gave up 350 total yards. The defense really wasn’t the issue. Take away the kick returns and the scoop and score on the 5-yard line and it’s not even a game. The defense didn’t give up 46 points. They played well enough for that game not to be a game.”

Last week, the Rams’ offense showcased a balanced attack against Agua Fria. Aaron Owens completed 23 of 28 passes for 537 yards and six touchdowns, and the running game produced 133 yards on 35 carries. The offense was so dominant that Owens was named the Arizona Cardinals state Player of the Week, and Owens and Johnson were both named American Family Insurance All-USA Arizona Performers of the Week.

Maricopa should expect a tougher time moving the ball against Shadow Mountain this week. The Matadors have given up 529 total yards in their first two games, and the majority of that came when Nogales shredded the Matadors defense for 323 rushing yards in their opener.

The loss of Johnson will adjust the Rams’ game plan, and the passing attack will look to Pedro, junior David Owens and sophomore Longman Pyne to fill the gap left by Johnson’s suspension. The team will also look to the running game to provide relief and balance once again.

“We’re going to get in a lot of three wide receiver and two running back sets and maybe get in an extra fullback and run,” McDonald said. “We’ll still spread them out, but we’re going to go right at them. I think our line can do that.”

The Rams offense may take another blow this week as senior center and team captain Nikolai White is dealing with some health issues. His status is uncertain at this time and he will be a game-time decision.

Despite the personnel setbacks, McDonald still believes he has enough talent on his team to compensate for the potential injuries.

“We can spread you out horizontally and if you take that away we’ll hit you vertically,” McDonald said. “We have enough guys on this roster that if you get them the ball in space, they’ll do some damage. We just need some guys to step up this week.”

The game will kick off at 7 p.m. at Shadow Mountain High School’s stadium is on campus, 2902 E Shea Blvd., Phoenix.

 

 

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Coach Chris McDonald says he is proud of the way the Rams have dealt with adversity this week. InMaricopa photo by William Lange

By Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School Rams football team has dealt with tragedy, extreme heat and sporadic rain in the week leading up to their first game, but despite all the obstacles, head coach Chris McDonald feels his team will show up focused and determined against the Owls of Agua Fria High School (Avondale).

The largest threat the Owls present to the Rams is their size advantage.

“They’re bigger than we are up front, so that’ll be the first and foremost threat,” McDonald said. “We’re going to try to use our speed. I think we have more team speed, so hopefully we can counteract their power with our speed. Then we’ll be able to infiltrate gaps by being quicker.”

Similar to last year’s Maricopa team, the Owls were an offensively potent team that struggled on defense. Maricopa will look to exploit the gaps in the defense, but at the same time, be aware of an improved unit that features ball-hawking senior safety Jaylon Green.

“No. 3 (Green) is their best all-around football player,” McDonald said. “He’s their free safety and he’s one of their slot receivers. He’s arguably the best athlete on the field. He’s a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the ball.”

In the 2014 season, Green led Agua Fria in receiving yards on offense and interceptions on defense. He also returns kicks and had nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards last year.

Another threat to the Rams defense is senior running back Chris Cofield. Last year, Cofield finished with a team-high seven rushing touchdowns and over 500 yards. According to McDonald, he is “fast and physical” and the defense will need to stop him from reaching the open field.

On the Rams side of the football, they’ll look to their explosive offense led by seniors Aaron Owens and Isaiah Pedro to set the tempo for the game. The Rams return four starters on the offensive line from the 2014 season, and if the scrimmage against Notre Dame Prep is any indication, they should have no problem opening holes for running backs to get through.

However, their receiving core featuring team co-captain Johnny Johnson Jr. and junior David Owens will need to step up their aggression for Maricopa to reach their full potential.

“I thought we were more physical (in the scrimmage) than [Notre Dame Prep] was, which was good to see,” McDonald said. “I just think our experience should be a strength this year. We have a core group of seniors that are returning and a lot of two-way players that know what to expect.”

The experience will be largely beneficial on offense. On defense, though, there are still some question marks. The team showed great defensive speed and aggression in the scrimmage last week, but once the first string players came off the field, the team was susceptible to big plays.

If they show up with the same aggression as they did in the scrimmage, the defense should be able to use their speed to overcome the size and power of the Agua Fria front line.

The last obstacle the Rams defense, and team as a whole, will have to cope with is the loss of senior linebacker Nate Ford. The morning after last week’s scrimmage, Ford passed away in a traffic accident. The aftermath has been felt by the team and community alike.

Last Friday’s practice was canceled after the accident, and the team has been honoring Ford each day at practice by bringing out his helmet, pads and practice jersey. So far, the tragedy has been fueling the team. At practice, they play for purpose. Each sprint and each play is executed for their friend who can no longer be with them. The team has handled the situation with strength and class, said Coach McDonald, who believes that drive will carry through Friday night as well.

“I told the kids after practice today that I was proud of them so far with how they’ve gone about their business,” McDonald said. “There’s no manual on how to handle something like this. So we’ve had a short week due to the circumstances. We got rained out Tuesday, so we haven’t had a lot of practices, but the tempo was real good in the practices we have had, and these players have had a spark.”

The Rams have decided to make Nate Ford the fourth team captain for Friday’s game. His number will be represented at the coin toss with the captains, and his jersey and equipment will be given a spot on the bench with his teammates.

There have been plenty of events throughout the week to provide excuses for the Rams, but the players haven’t taken them. They appear focused and determined to make a statement Friday.