Overcoming its share of first-game oddities, the Maricopa High School football team defeated Willow Canyon Thursday night, 27-19.
With COVID-19 protocols in place at Ram Stadium, causing confusion only during the post-game handshake, the teams played before a limited but enthusiastic crowd of masked spectators and a socially distanced pep band.
On the field, it was business as usual. The Rams and the Wild Cats took a bit of time to get comfortable, trading punts and holding each other scoreless through the first quarter.
Maricopa senior quarterback Cipriano Childers loosened up to show off his arm and running ability, despite the slow start.
“Cipriano got on the headset to the coach upstairs and said, ‘I’m playing kind of like a [deleted]. But I’m OK now. I finally got it out of myself.’ And he settled down and started playing football,” MHS head coach Brandon Harris said. “He did a really nice job, made some nice throws.”
Maricopa was the first into the end zone, a 17-yard run by senior Mister Chavis setting up a touchdown by D.J. Scott with 5:19 left in the half. Willow Canyon scored with 2.2 seconds on the clock, but the Rams took the 7-6 lead into the locker room.
A 33-yard pass from Childers to Michael Moore for a touchdown early in the third quarter was underscored by a dramatic blast from a passing train and added to the Rams’ lead.
The defense, meanwhile, was making red zone stands when the Wild Cats threatened.
“Defense played great,” Harris said. “When they had to make a play, they made a play. At timeout I told them, ‘I put you in this spot, but who has the lead?’ They said, ‘We do.’ So, I said, ‘Play like you’ve got the lead and go make a play.’ And they did.”
Chavis went 37 yards to get inches away from scoring, with referees determining he had not crossed over the pylon before being shoved out of bounds. A verbal outburst cost the Rams penalty yardage. No worries, though, as Childers connected with junior Zion Morgan on an 18-yard pass. With the point-after-touchdown kick blocked, Maricopa was up 19-6.
“We’ve got to fix our PAT,” Harris said after the game. “That was something we need to improve upon.”
He had high praise for the rest of the special teams, however.
“Our kicking game as far as our kickoff team, our punting, our punt-return team, our kick-return teams are outstanding,” he said. “Special teams are really good, much improved.”
In the first minute of the fourth quarter, Chiders kept the ball, running in from the 5 for Maricopa’s final touchdown of the game. He gave the football to Chavis, who had just returned after being sick on the field, for a successful two-point conversion.
Though the Wild Cats scored twice more as the Rams got a little messy, the deficit was too large to overcome. In between, the Rams had two touchdown runs brought back by penalties – one a 76-yard interception by Nate Leon and the other a 72-yard run by Moore.
Harris said the team will shake off those woulda-been TDs and look at what worked. That include the three touchdown passes and scoring run by Childers and a mix of attacks.
“I really liked how our offense played,” Harris said. “Mister gobbled up a ton of yards. He ran really, really hard, but he didn’t get in the end zone. Other guys got in the end zone in those opportunities, and that means defenses have to defend all of our players, not just Mister Chavis. That makes us more dangerous. We’ve got a lot of weapons.”
Maricopa next hosts Waddell’s Canyon View High School Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.
0 7 12 8 – 27
0 6 0 13 – 19