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

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

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

Jesse Gaines is not most athletes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Box Score

Arcadia        0   3  7  21

Maricopa    10  0  0  0

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

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

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

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

 

Maricopa stats

Passing: Aaron Owens 16-34 for 167 yards

Rushing: D’Angelo Edgerton 58 yards

Receiving: David Owens and Johnny Johnson Jr. 58 yards

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.