Green Party

November 7, 2008

NAU Walkup Skydome


LEADING IN:  2008 was a rough year for both schools.  Just prior to the start of the season, Pat Harlow (who was slated to be the Flag High head coach after he finished ’07 on an interim basis after Erik Affholter’s departure) resigned, and Jeremiah Smith stepped in to do the best he could on short notice.  For his efforts, his Eagles came to the annual crosstown match-up with a 2-7 record (2-2 in Grand Canyon Region play), whipping up on Sinagua and Page.  The Panthers’ losing streak continued deep into the season, breaking it in the eighth game with a 36-20 win over Page at the Skydome. (coincidentally, their last win came on October 6, 2006, against Page, 41-0) after 21 straight losses.  As such, Coconino’s record was 1-8 (1-3 GCR) going into the Duel at the Dome, which meant the teams combined for three wins to this point.


The Coconino offense was predicated on rushing by committee.  Going into the game, they averaged 170 yards on the ground with no single back carrying the burden.  Instead, Chris Bennett, Zeno Joyce, Isaac Hector, and Brady Nittman all chipped in; Bennett might have had more carries, but Joyce led the team with 476 yards.


Starting about midway through the season, Flag High settled on junior quarterback Luke Rotter to run the show and committed themselves to the pass.  His three favorite targets were Jesse Tate, Jake Walton, and Adam Serrano, and especially at home in the Dome this year, they proved themselves potent.  Tate, for example, rolled up 22 catches and 383 receiving yards in their five previous Dome games and scored nine touchdowns, two on returns.


Both teams struggled on the road this year, but they also excelled under the timbers of the Skydome.  Flag High averaged nearly 31 points a game in the Dome but just seven elsewhere.  Same story for Coconino, 17.7 points a game on the Skydome turf, just 4.3 everywhere else.  Panther coach Tadd Ragan summed it up:  “I think it’s just a feeling of being at home and a comfort in being in the Dome for both teams.  We’ve probably played our better games in the Dome; we haven’t had a lot of success on the road this year.”


THE GAME:  Midway through the second quarter, Flag High was up 20-0.  The reason: turnovers, and plenty of them.  Sophomore Panther QB Casey Sifling threw three quick interceptions, and the Eagles converted them all into touchdowns, including Jake Scully’s 39-yard return for a score.  Flag High didn’t have to work all that hard when Coconino was giving the ball away.  Matt Martel got the scoring started with an 8-yard run, then Rotter capitalized with a 1-yard run of his own.  By the time of Scully’s score, the Panthers seemed dead in the water.


They did not, however, give up.  Coconino’s Matt Whelan picked off Rotter as they were setting up a screen pass, and 36 yards later, he had his own pick-six and the Panthers were on the board.  The Eagles came right back with a more successful drive, culminating in a 7-yard scoring strike from Rotter to Tate.  The two-point conversion failed.  Not to be outdone, the Cats scored again just before the end of the half, as Nittman, on the halfback option, threaded the needle between two defenders and hit Bennett on a 30-yard pass for a score with 12 seconds left.  Despite the horrendous start, the Panthers went to the locker room, trailing 26-14.


It stayed that way until the fourth quarter.  Eagle linebacker Mark Thompson snatched his second interception of the night, and two plays later, Rotter hit Walton for a 43-yard score.  The quarterback ended the night with seven completions on 17 attempts for 171 yards and three touchdowns through the air (and one more on the ground).  The last two passes he threw went the distance, as he threw another strike to Tate just minutes later, this one from 47 yards out. 


“We felt very confident going in at halftime”, Ragan said of his team’s performance, “We were in a good position.  We just made too many mistakes in the second half.”     


Flagstaff 40, Coconino 20


AT THE END OF THE DAY:  Coconino finished 2008 at 1-9, which is a positive when you consider they went 0-10 the year before.  The Eagles finished the year on the stronger note, finishing at 3-7 and winning their last two games versus Page and Coconino.  They went into 2009 with a little bit of momentum and the hope for more consistency, but in an age with all three Flagstaff teams at a low point (Sinagua finished 1-9 for the second year in a row), with the coaching situation still not nailed down at Flag High (Smith was their third head coach in two seasons), momentum and hope can both be fleeting.  When potential starters opt out of playing because of losing programs and a lack of dependability from the coaching staffs, victories like tonight’s can only gloss over the seriousness of the situation. 






















FHS:  Matt Martel 8 run (Will Jenny PAT)

FHS:  Luke Rotter 1 run (Jenney PAT)

FHS:  James Scully 39 interception return (kick failed)  

CHS:  Matt Whelan 36 interception return (Nate Zobott run)

FHS:  Jesse Tate 7 pass from Rotter (run failed)

CHS:  Chris Bennett 30 pass from Brady Nittman (pass failed)

FHS:  Jake Walton 43 pass from Rotter (Jenny PAT)

CHS:  Zeno Joyce 2 pass from Casey Sifling (run failed)

FHS:  Tate 47 pass from Rotter (Jenny PAT)










First Downs



Rushing (Carries-Yards)



Passing (Att-Comp-Int)



Passing Yards



Total Offense
















          Hector:  15 rushes, 103 yards; Joyce:  12 rushes, 74 yards; Nittman:  2 rushes, 12 yards; Bennett:  10 rushes, 11 yards; Zobott:  2 rushes, 6 yards; Sifling:  1 rush, -7 yards


          Gill:  19 rushes, 76 yards; Irwin:  5 rushes, 26 yards; Martel:  3 rushes, 25 yards, 1 TD; Neal:  4 rushes, 19 yards; Villalpondo:  2 carries, 11 yards; Heal:  2 rushes, 5 yards; Serrano:  1 rush, 5 yards; Rotter:  1 rush, 1 yard, 1 TD




          Bennett:  2 rec, 88 yards, 1 TD; Joyce:  2 rec, 17 yards, 1 TD


          Tate:  3 rec, 77 yards, 2 TD; Walton:  3 rec, 82 yards, 1 TD; Serrano:  1 rec, 12 yards




          Sifling:  12 att, 3 comp, 75 yards, 1 TD, 4 int; Nittman:  1 att, 1 comp, 30 yards, 1 TD


          Rotter:  17 att, 7 comp, 171 yards, 3 TD, 1 int


Original story by Rory Faust of the Arizona Daily Sun; November 8, 2008

Text for Flagcoco by Russell Woods; November 29, 2012

Statisticss compiled by Bob Oberhardt, Maxpreps, and the Arizona Daily Sun

Last updated: November 29, 2012