Panthers Squeak by Eagles

September 11, 1970

Lumberjack Stadium


 LEADING IN:  The city of Flagstaff was already recognizing they had something special with their inter-city rivalry.  After last year’s defensive quagmire, Paul Sweitzer of the Daily Sun was touting this year’s edition the “second historic meeting”.  Coconino ended the ’69 season with an 8-2 record for a firm second-place finish in the always-competitive AA North, while Flag High had strung together several conference wins in the AAA Skyline Division and remained in contention for the title until the final weeks of the season, ending at 3-5 (a definite improvement, after going 0-for-1968).  Both schools had reason to be optimistic as the new decade began. 


THE GAME:   7,500 fans filled old Lumberjack Stadium (capacity 8,350) to watch a classic duel.  Aside from two big plays—a 72-yard touchdown by Keith Moore and Robert Thieme’s 55-yard punt return for a score—the two teams played a tight defensive game for three-and-a-half quarters.  The Panthers led 13-0 with six minutes left and seemed to have everything under control. 


That’s when Carlos Diaz took the game over and nearly, single-handedly, willed the Eagles to victory.  After Thieme intercepted Diaz in the fourth quarter, the Eagles quarterback/kicker stepped up, first with an 81-yard pass to fire up the offense, then culminating the drive with his own 2-yard plunge.  Coach Ply opted for the 2-point conversion, and Diaz called his own number again, only to be stopped short.  On the ensuing kickoff, the onside kick was successfully recovered by Flag High’s little big man, Danny Weldon.  Diaz led the Eagles down the field again, this time firing a 9-yard strike to Ron Begay to bring them to within a point.  Again, Ply called for the two-pointer, and again, it failed.  Holding the Panthers’ offense to nothing , the Eagles had all the momentum in their favor.  As the clock wound down, Diaz ran for an apparent touchdown, his third in less than six minutes, but it was called back on a penalty.  Instead, Flag High lined up for a winner-take-all field goal, and as the final gun sounded, Diaz’s kick sailed wide.  The Panthers dodged a big bullet, and Sweitzer’s headline the next day read, “Someone Up There Likes Them”, citing the winning combination of talent and luck they already were sporting after just two varsity seasons and one game into their third. 


Coconino 13, Flagstaff 12


AT THE END OF THE DAY:  While Coconino went on to have a subpar 3-6 record, the first mediocre season in their brief varsity history, Flag High bottomed out at 1-9.  This was the last season for Eagles’ longtime coach John Ply, who noted he had more losses in the last four years of his career than in the previous twenty (that certainly may have been true and not an exaggeration; the long-time coach did not suffer a losing season until 1967, and in the last four years of his tenure, Varsity had a combined record of 8-29-1).  This game, however, became the standard by which all other rivalry games should be judged, a defensive slugfest with key big plays, the concepts of underdog and favorite discarded, and the winner not decided until the final minutes of play; in this case, the final play itself.  Though playoff positioning and division titles weren’t on the line tonight, the foundation of something special, something distinctly Flagstaff, was being laid.






















CHS:  Moore 72 run (Gilliland PAT)    

CHS:  Thieme 55 punt return (kick failed)

FHS:  Diaz 2 run (run failed)

FHS:  Begay 9 pass from Diaz (run failed)



Original story by Paul Sweitzer of the Coconino Sun, September 12, 1970

Text for Flagcoco written by Russell Woods; August 9, 2012

Last updated:  February 26, 2013