Eagles & Panthers Both Make Postseason in COVID-Shortened 2020

November 13, 2020

Cromer Stadium

LEADING IN:  It’s a miracle there was a season at all.  Throughout America, the scourge of COVID-19 pressured school districts in every state to make tough decisions on opening schools and taking a chance on athletics.  Several states opted to put off their high school football seasons until the spring, a few decided to start in August as usual, and some, like Arizona, chose to delay the start of their seasons until October, slashing the traditional ten-game schedule to seven, and initiating protocols for ensuring safe practices and competition.  Even with these measures, schools on the Navajo Reservation opted to not play in the fall, and many in Southern Arizona opted to delay their seasons even further, making them ineligible for the postseason.  NAU and the Big Sky Conference chose to put off football until the spring as well, which meant mothballing the Skydome; for the first time since 1976, Flag High would be sharing Cromer Stadium with Coconino as their home field for the ’20 season.

Second-year head coaches Todd Hanley and Mike Lapsley worked as diligently as possible to ensure safe practice conditions for their Eagles and Panthers, and to their credit, all athletes did their job in keeping the infectious disease from spreading through their ranks.  Though the players and coaches were taking this seriously, people across the state weren’t quite so thoughtful in wearing their masks and maintaining social distance as cases and deaths skyrocketed across America and especially in Arizona.  Flagstaff Unified School District chose to keep the physical schools closed in favor of online learning while the teams practiced.  Even with every precaution, by mid-September, two weeks before the start of the season, FUSD was threatening to postpone the season even further; a spirited protest at City Hall and an equally-spirited school board meeting convinced the district to reverse their decision, and at long last, on October 2, the 2020 season began with a doubleheader at Cromer Stadium.

Just days before Opening Day, Coconino linebacker Jon Jaramillo suffered a serious head injury that would keep him out the entire season.  The Panther faithful posted his #6 all over the East Side in remembrance of their fallen friend.  He recovered and remained a presence with the team the entire season.

The Eagles were coming off a 6-4 campaign in 2019 and were very senior-heavy as they began their season against the rebuilding Mingus Marauders.  Morgan Bewley got the nod at quarterback and had perhaps the best receiver duo in the Grand Canyon Region to work with, Ryan Tagle and Jace Wetzel.  He also had 1000-yard back Luis Jaramillo to hand the ball to.  While concussion protocol forced Jaramillo to sit out the second half of the opener, Bewley mustered just enough offense, scoring the only touchdown of the game himself on a 6-yard run to win the opener, 7-0.

Coconino took on top-ten Marcos de Niza, and it was a good one between two 4A teams looking to return to the playoffs.  Ryan Seery had a solid debut at quarterback for the Panthers, throwing for 133 yards and two scores, and Zach Bennett (coming off a junior season in which he blew up the school record book with, among other items, 1,753 yards) gained 113 on the ground, but it was a see-saw battle that needed overtime to resolve. Bennett scored from seven yards out, and with Jesus Trejo’s extra point, the Panthers went up 29-22.  The Padres scored when they had the ball as well, but instead of going for the PAT (they had had two blocked already in the game), they went for an all-or-nothing two-point conversion; calling a run off right tackle, linebacker Manuel Cardoza held the MDN runner short of the goal line to secure a thrilling 29-28 win.

From there, Coconino steamrolled through their regional schedule.  They took care of the up-and-coming Lee Williams Volunteers, 28-21, but no other Grand Canyon challenger was able to stay within two touchdowns.  Their Week Six opponent, Mingus, did an excellent job in the first half playing Coconino’s game (power running, taking advantage of miscues, controlling the clock), but the Panthers held to their game plan and won, 35-21.  While the Panthers were racking up wins, Bennett was racking up the yardage; by the time they beat Mingus, Bennett had amassed 3,887 rushing yards as a Panther, surpassing Bruce Branch’s career mark of 3,852 twenty years prior.

Flag High followed their opening win against Mingus with their own overtime thriller against Bradshaw Mountain; Bewley threw for 201 yards, Jaramillo ran for 195, but it was Jaramillo’s scoring plunge on fourth down from the Bears’ 1 that sealed their 34-31 win.  After suffering losses to Prescott and Cactus, they got their groove back in a solid 35-17 win against Lee Williams; the Eagles ran for 415 yards that night, Jaramillo gaining 326 of it, three yards shy of David Winsley’s school record on 329 set in 1985.

Coconino entered the 2020 City Championship game with a perfect 6-0 record, 5-0 in Grand Canyon Region play.  Flag High was 4-2, 4-1 in the GCR, which meant, for the first time since 2004, the Rivalry Game doubled as the Grand Canyon Region title game.  The Panthers were a shoo-in for the postseason, being in the 4A top ten most of the year; it wasn’t quite so clear for the Eagles, but a win over their East Side brothers would definitely make their case easier.  Even with the COVID-shortened schedule, both Bennett and Jaramillo were poised to break a thousand yards on the season, and to add more drama to these feats, should they come to fruition, they would be just the third and fourth runners in city history to claim three thousand-yard seasons.


The 52nd meeting between the Eagles and the Panthers was played on a chilly November 13 evening, the latest in the year the game has been played in 34 years.  COVID protocols dictated a smaller, spaced-out audience in the grandstands and the bleachers behind the visitors’ sideline, but with a lot riding on this game, those who did attend were loud and proud.

Coconino’s Jesus Trejo kicked off to start the game, resulting in a touchback and Flag High starting their opening drive on their own 20.  Jaramillo ran for 19 on the first play, but the Eagles couldn’t build on it and had to punt.  The Panthers took over on their own 21, running the ball efficiently and with multiple runningbacks.  Cardoza started the drive with 15 yards.  Bennett for 13, then again with 8.  Fullback Tyson Fousel smashed through the middle for 20.  Bennett for 7, Cardoza for 7, and finally Bennett in for the score from four yards out, and with Trejo’s extra point, the Panthers were up, 7-0, midway through the first quarter.

Flag High’s second possession was much like the first.  A Jaramillo run of 33 yards put the Eagles in Coconino territory, but a holding penalty on the next play stifled their momentum and they would soon punt again, this time returned by Jacob Clouse, who ran it 52 yards to the Eagles’ 4.  Bennett punched it in on the next play, and just like that, Coconino had a 14-0 lead.

The third time Flag High had the ball started to look like the first two times, with Jaramillo breaking off a long run, only this time the ball was knocked out of his hands after 28 yards, with Coconino’s Jacob Begay recovering.  The Panthers worked the ball down the field with their usual relentless running attack, chunk by chunk, but this time the Eagles’ D came through, with Jaramillo recovering a Fousel fumble and setting up shop on their own 14.  The Eagles, encouraged that they were able to run on the Panthers, with Bewley and Wetzel breaking off runs of their own.  Fourteen plays later they were on the Panther 28, facing a fourth-and-four; Jaramillo got the first down but fumbled, Cardoza recovering this time.

Cardoza broke off a 27-yard run, but on the next play, Bennett fumbled, the Eagles’ Marcus Salcido picked it up and ran it back 53 yards to put the Eagles on the board.  With the extra point, despite all the fumbling from both sides, Flag High only trailed 14-7 with six minutes left til halftime.

The Panthers responded with a 15-play, 74-yard drive that ate up most of the rest of the second quarter.  More methodical running, using their depth at runningback to their advantage, they took their time, staying within themselves, remaining patient.  Seery threw a couple of incompletions, but it was Bennett who completed the first Coconino pass of the game, a 11-yard strike to Fousel that got them to the Eagles’ 3; from there, Bennett ran it in for his third score of the game, the half ending with the Panthers in control, 21-7.

Coconino got the ball to start the second half and put together one more long, time-consuming scoring drive, this one covering 93 yards in 12 plays.  Aside from a 13-yard pass from Seery to Andy Ruiz, the drive was bound to the ground.  Bennett broke a 32-yard run (his longest of the night) to get the ball to the Eagle’s 2, and two plays later, he ran it home for his fourth touchdown of the night.

Flag High had time to make a comeback, a quarter and a half to go.  On a drive that straddled the third and fourth quarters, the Eagles worked themselves down to the Panther 8, but couldn’t finish it off as Bewley’s pass on fourth own fell incomplete.

Bennett finished the night with 165 yards on 29 carries and four touchdowns, putting him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, becoming the third player in city history to accomplish the feat.  Jaramillo gained 89 yards and would have to wait a week to become the fourth.  Jaramillo earned the John Ply Memorial Award for his efforts, becoming the only player in school history to win the award twice.  Cardoza gained 89 rushing yards as well and had nine solo tackles, earning him the Bill Epperson Award.  Cardoza’s nine solos gave him 130 for his career as a Panther, tying David Quick’s school record.  Jesus Trejo’s four PATs gave him 90 for a career, breaking Herik Mandel’s school/city record of 88.

Coconino 28, Flagstaff 7


It came to be that both teams indeed did qualify for the postseason.  Because of the unusual circumstances the season was played under, the AIA ruled that the sixteen teams that qualified would play in a “play-in” round, whereby the winners from that round would be re-seeded for an eight-team first round.  As the #15 seed, Flag High would travel to the Valley to play the high-scoring #2 American Leadership Academy in Queen Creek.  The Eagles were able to keep up with the Patriots early, trailing 28-21 at half, but ALA was able to screw down their defense in the second and shut Flag High out on their way to a 56-21 win.  Jaramillo had 164 yards, most of it in the first half, finishing his career with the Eagles with 3,293 yards.  A week after Bennett became the third back in city history to record three 1000-yard seasons, Jaramillo became the fourth, and the only Eagle to ever accomplish that feat; none of the great runningbacks in Flag High history, not James Dugan, nor Stan Gill, David Winsley, Ceaser Polk, or any of the other greats did what Luis did.

Coconino took the #3 seed and hosted #14 Estrella Foothills.  The Panthers took full advantage of playing at Cromer Stadium, and between the cold, the elevation, and their suffocating defense, the Panthers shut down Estrella’s high-flying passing attack and maintained a 35-0 shutout into the fourth quarter, eventually winning 35-22.

After the AIA shuffled the remaining eight teams, Coconino drew the #5 seed and faced their nemesis, Cactus.  This was the third time in three years the Panthers faced the Cobras, and all three games followed the same plot: Coconino would stay competitive with Cactus in the first half, the Cobras’ coaches would make adjustments at halftime and shut down the Panthers in the second.  Fousel got the Panthers on the board quickly with a 55-yard burst up the middle, and though the offense made plenty of mistakes, Coconino only trailed 13-7 at intermission.  Cactus came out in the second half, determined to halt the Panthers’ venerable running game and force the Cats to beat them through the air, which they were able to do, as they held Bennett to 39 yards, his lowest total of the season, and Seery threw three interceptions.  Cactus won, 41-7.

Manuel Cardoza ended his career with 133 solo tackles, most in school history.  Jesus Trejo extended his city record for PATs to 96.  Zach Bennett finished 2020 with 1,206 yards, giving him 4,169 for his career, fourth all-time in city history; he scored 54 total touchdowns and holds the most records in the school record book.  More importantly, with Bennett leading the offense for three years, Cardoza on defense, and Trejo on special teams, the Panthers went 24-6 and won two Grand Canyon Region titles.

Flag High’s rebuilding will continue, but without Coach Hanley, who resigned on December 9 because of family issues.  In two years his Eagles went 10-8, including two winning seasons and a postseason berth.  He was the Eagles’ eleventh head coach since the dismissal of Craig Holland at the end of the 2006 season.

As for our toughest opponent, COVID-19, the pandemic rages on as of February 2021.  Nearly 500,000 Americans have died in the year since “coronavirus” started becoming a household word.  A half-dozen vaccines have brought the rate of cases and deaths down over the last month, but much more has to be done before we can resume life as we knew it.  Just as the fall season was pushed back six weeks, the winter season (which normally starts in early December) didn’t begin until late January.  Who knows what will happen in the spring and beyond.



















CHS:   Zach Bennett 4 run (Jesus Trejo PAT)         

CHS:   Bennett 4 run (Trejo PAT)

FHS:   Marcus Salcido 47 fumble recovery return (Ben Ketchner (PAT)

CHS:   Bennett 3 run (Trejo PAT)

CHS:   Bennett 1 run (Trejo PAT)








Rushing (Att/Yds)



Passing (Att/Comp/Int)



Passing Yards



Total Offense










#34 Luis Jaramillo

18 carries, 89 yds

#34 Zach Bennett

29 carries, 165 yds, 4TD

#10 Morgan Bewley

11 carries, 32 yds

#44 Tyson Fousel

9 carries, 126 yds

#24 Marcus Salcido

4 carries, 11 yards

#26 Manuel Cardoza

9 carries, 89 yds





#10 Morgan Bewley

14 att, 7 comp, 56 yds

#3 Ryan Seery

3 att, 1 comp, 13 yds

#34 Zach Bennett

1 att, 1 comp, 11 yds





#6 Jake Weidinger

3 rec, 26 yds

#7 Andy Ruiz

1 rec, 13 yds

#13 Ryan Tagle

3 rec, 9 yds

#44 Tyson Fousel

1 rec, 11 yds

#7 Holden Sena

1 rec, 11 yds

Original story by Lance Hartzler of the Arizona Daily Sun; November 13, 2020

Coconino statistics by Dave Merrell as posted on Digital Scout

Flagstaff statistics by Bob Oberhardt as posted on MaxPreps

Last Updated:  March 1, 2021