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November 13, 2006

Wickenburg beats Blue Ridge 26-23... On to the Semi Finals

This is going to be a long post, so I am sticking most of it in the extended entry. Please check it out.

I graduated from Wickenburg High School in 1993 (well actually 1995 because I failed Senior AP English and Government and left with six weeks remaining my senior year to start college early) and my wife did in 1996. All of my wife's brothers and sisters and several cousins, uncles, etc. graduated from Wickenburg. I played on two teams that were ranked number one in the state at one point or another in football, but ultimately, in the last 30 years, Wickenburg has made less than a half dozen trips to the semifinals and no finals appearances since 1979. Last year, Wick lost a 27-20 game in the semis to the eventual state Champions that went down to the wire. A close game, but yet another season that ended without a title.

Pinetop-Lakeside is another town, about the same size as Wickenburg that is located in the White Mountains approximately 20 miles from Sunrise Park Ski Resort. Between 1987 and 2004, Lakeside Blue Ridge won the State 3A Football title in Arizona 10 times, including completing 8 perfect 13-0 undefeated seasons. Twice, Blue Ridge's only loss of the year was in the title game and they finished 12-1 in addition to their 10 championships. Add in that Blue Ridge has dominated Wickenburg four straight times in the last six years and you have the background on a game that represents an opportunity for a turning point for Wickenburg football. So the brackets came out and Wickenburg drew Blue Ridge (assuming both won their first round games) in the second round. The game was last Friday night.

I take my sons to the ballgames and keep them on the sidelines with me. I don't claim to be a great dad, and am pretty much a selfish SOB, but if my kids dig going to Suns Games, NFL and College Games, High School games, and skiing, I love to spend time with my kids. =) So it is just what we do. I have gotten to know several people online from various towns around the state via an online message board, so now with a horse in the race that has a chance to win, things have gotten pretty exciting. Just tons of anticipation of last weeks games as this may be the most talented and best group of teams Arizona 3A ball has seen in decades.

Wickenburg hired a new coach last year who so far has gone 23-2 in two years with the only two losses being a tight fought regional title game last year to Fountain Hills and last year's playoff game against Coolidge in the semifinals. I have gotten to know him a fair amount (and know many of the folks on his staff) and he is already becoming a part of the fabric of the town, which is what happens when you coach football and win ballgames. Plus his wife and family are phenomenol people and everything about them exudes class. His wife knows more about football than most high school coaches I have met and similar to her husband, has a stack of football stories to tell. I know some of the kids and grew up with several kid's parents, etc. Just small town living. I live over an hour away now in the Phoenix Suburbs, but drive to every home game and almost all away games.

For the last two weeks, I have been in football overload mode. Last Friday, we went to three high school games in one evening to catch two of the other semifinalist's games that we face for the title in the Final Four. Add in constantly talking about it and planning for games or working the chains or just preparing for game day and it has consumed me and several of my friends. Not to mention my Cardinals and ASU tickets.

But last Friday night may go down as the single best night of watching football I have ever had. Been to bowl games. Been to the Cardinals versus New Orleans and San Diego games when Arizona clinched the playoff berth against Dallas in 1998. Watched comeback wins by ASU and been to half a dozen Territorial Cup games. But a triple header of high school ball when you have a horse in it and when two games come down to the last play of the game... nothing is better. I have a major problem--my volume switch only has one volume and unfortunately that is the one from Cardinals, Suns, and ASU games and is probably a little louder than appropriate at a high school game. But it is good to get fired up. I thought I gave myself an aneurism yelling so loud the last 5 minutes of Friday's game though.

So it is Lakeside Blue Ridge and Wickenburg. Wickenburg has some horses this year, but BR is scrappy and they expect to be champions every single year. The game went back and forth with one team scoring, then the other. I won't describe it because I can't do it justice. Let me let the numbers do the talking for me.Here is the box score from the Wickenburg Sun:

Blue Ridge...0...3...0...20 -- 23
Wickenburg...0...7...6...13 -- 26

W - Wells 18 pass from Vaughan (Sievert kick) 9:25
BR - Bonilla 41 FB 0:00
W - T. Murphy 80 pass from Root (Kick wide)
BR - Parkinson 24 pass from Williams (Bonilla kick) 10:04
W - McKeever 79 pass from Vaughan (Sievert kick) 9:40
BR - Wise 35 pass from Williams (Bonilla kick) 2:38
W - McKeever 60 pass from Vaughan (Kick wide) 1:23
BR - Wise 5 pass from Williams (Kick blocked) :23

Wickenburg statistics:

Rushing - McKeever 19-107, Alder 14-55, Root 1-7, Vaughan 1 (-7).
Passing - Vaughan 7-10-203, Root 1-1-80.
Receiving - McKeever 2-139, T. Murphy 3-100, Wells 1-18, Alder 1-15, Root 1-11.

41 Yard Field Goals? Yep, had it. Long bombs? Had that too. Huge runs? Yep. Back and forth scoring... oh, yeah. Just look at that 4th Quarter. Score...Answer...Score...Answer. It was a masterpiece. Last score was with :23 left and the game didn't end until the onside kick was recovered.

And you know the best part. This was the early game. The late game was even better. Seton led 20-13 with six minutes left. Show Low marched down the field and scored but missed the PAT so they were down 20-19. They kicked off, stopped them, converted a 4th and 6 with a long pass to save the drive, took it all the way down to the one yard line. The game ended on a QB sneak that was stopped on the 1 INCH LINE AS TIME EXPIRED.

So this week it is Wickenburg and Seton, the top ranked teams in the state--both 12-0, get to battle it out to see who will face what will probably be last year's defending State Champion (and what I think is the best team in the state)--Coolidge. Coolidge won every game last year except a loss at home to LAKESIDE BLUE RIDGE and finished 13-1. They beat Wickenburg in the Semis and ended the Wrangler's season 27-20. This year they are 11-1 with their only loss coming to Seton.

Maybe this is boring stuff to folks not attached to it. I don't even live in Wickenburg anymore, but have been getting e-mails from old teammates to see who is going where before or after the games. Ran into some old friends and teammates on Friday and their kids who someday will play ball with my kids. Relationships in life matter. When you spend four straight months with the same guys every year for four straight years, they become an extended family. Wickenburg has never had a tradition that I can really remember. No champions. No older kids coming back and expecting perfection from the younger ones. No great coaching or great expectations. Last year, this year, and this trip to the semifinals is allowing us to reconnect and rebuild some traditions. And we are meeting folks ande talking to folks onlie from around the state looking to do the same. Our young kids throw the ball behind the bleachers during the games or on the field after it is over while former teammates and friends remember a snake at Gila Bend their senior year or the old stadium that got torn down when they built the new high school.

It is cheesy to say, but Coach Norris Vaughan is helping give Wickenburg an identity that it has been searching for since I was a kid. Folks show up and pack the stands and talk about football and expect to win and expect to beat the Blue Ridges of the world. And in our corner of a state filled with other small towns, it helps put our home with its four stop lights, two Circle K's, and 10,000 people back on the map. And give folks like me a reason to come back besides getting free food or babysitting at the in-law's place.

Posted by Justin at November 13, 2006 12:14 PM