Panthers Win, Now Lead Series

November 12, 2021

NAU Skydome


With both the Eagles and Panthers enjoying postseason appearances in ‘20, positivity reigned as summer practice began. Mike Lapsley was beginning his fourth year at Coconino, the third as the head man, and with the Panthers making strides every season with him in the mix, the Cats were looking to take another one and become true contenders for the 4A state title.  Losing their all-time leading rusher, Zach Bennett, to graduation didn’t dampen their hopes, as they remained loaded with runners chomping at the bit to take over; Cooper French, Jacob Clouse, Gabriel Callado, Tyson Fousel, they all looked to take over the mantle and run behind their huge offensive line.  Knowing the Panthers were set for 300 yards rushing game in and game out, there was little pressure on sophomore quarterback Enoch Watson to carry the team; he could develop as the season went, and as long as they could run the ball and play tough defense, the Panthers would win.

Sean Manning took the head-coaching helm for Flag High after Todd Hanley left the program after two years that saw the Eagles rise from mediocrity to respectability.  Manning had been part of the program for a decade and was no stranger on the sidelines.  The Eagles had eleven head coaches (including co-heads and interims) in the previous fourteen years; what they needed more than anything was continuity and stability, and seeing a familiar face calling the shots might bring it.  After three seasons of Luis Jaramillo barreling through defenses, it would be interesting to see where the Eagles went from here, who would emerge as leaders, what direction they would take.

It turns out, at least to start the season, the Eagles would take to the skies. Senior quarterback Bodie Maier looked like he was going to rewrite the school record book right from the get-go as he threw for four touchdowns against 5A Camelback in the opener and Flag High won, 26-7.  The offense looked to be a balance of running (with Marcus Salcido powering through the line and Gunner Price with the speed to run outside) and passing (Holden Sena as their possession receiver, Jake Weidinger their deep threat, and Cal-commit Nick Morrow catching short passes and dragging tacklers behind him), and with Maier keeping the ball moving, the ’21 Eagle did something no other team in school history every accomplished: between games versus Washington, Mingus, and Thunderbird, they scored more than 40 points in three straight contests.  Flag High started 4-0 and were looking good, so good that Maier was looking to shatter the school’s passing records (he had 16 passing touchdowns through the first five games) and Sena might do the same for receiving touchdowns (he had eight of Maier’s 16).

Coconino was slated to play the mighty Cactus Cobras to start the season, but COVID had other plans, and the Panthers had to sit out Week One.  They began play against 5A Cactus Shadows and won, 26-24. Against Marcos de Niza the following week, they ran for 336 yards, but Watson also threw three touchdown passes in their 49-21 win.  Two names began to emerge in terms of leading their vaunted running attack: senior Jonathon Jaramillo (who, this time last year , was in the hospital after a fall left him with skull fractures) and junior Cooper French (who won a state title in wrestling six month before).  Just as they were hitting their stride, COVID struck again!  This time it prevented them from taking on the defending 3A champions, the Snowflake Lobos. 

When the AIA posted their initial rankings after Week Six, both the Eagles and Panthers were in the top 15.  Flag High, after tough losses to Winslow (14-12) and Marcos de Niza (14-7), were ranked #13.  Coconino had only played three games (they beat Lee Williams, 29-10, to go 3-0), but because of their strength of schedule (apparently the AIA didn’t hold it against them for not being able to play Cactus and Snowflake), they were #3.  By midseason, Flagstaff was buzzing over the potential of the Grand Canyon Region game being played in the Skydome and both our teams with not just playoff aspirations, but strong and differing identities.

Those lofty dreams started to slip away as the season wound down.  The Prescott Badgers came to Cromer and beat the Panthers, 34-28 in overtime, ending Coconino’s 16-game region winning streak.  The Eagles’ slide continued as a slew of injuries hit them hard; Morrow, Salcido, Sena, and Weidinger all spent the next several games on the bench as that awesome offense ground to a halt.  Losses to Bradshaw Mountain, Prescott, and Lee Williams left the Eagle at 4-5, out of contention for the region title and a playoff bid.  The Panthers, though continuing to run with authority, weren’t quite the dominant force they had been the previous two seasons; they beat Mingus on a night where French set school and city records with 41 carries and 354 yards rushing, but they couldn’t carry that momentum into the remainder of their season as they lost to Bradshaw and Havasu—two teams that could run the ball and control the clock and take advantage of Panther miscues—and went into the Rivalry Game at 4-3, in jeopardy as well of missing the playoffs as they had slid in the rankings and were now on the bubble.

That’s the stage that was set.  Coconino was playing for their postseason lives, while Flag High was looking to play spoiler.


Both teams started the game conservatively, even tentatively, as the first quarter came and went with neither team scoring nor taking any chances with risky plays.  Only two passes were thrown at all, both short throws by Maier, completing just one to Weidinger.  Aside from a 13-yard scamper by Salcido on the first play from scrimmage, neither team had a play go ten yards in the opening stanza.  The defenses were certainly dialed in and hitting hard.  Procedural penalties kept either offense from getting into a rhythm.  Aside from the Eagles taking a chance on 4th-and-3 from their own 40, both teams seemed quite content to spar in this way.

Coconino, however, had proved themselves more adept at playing this kind of football over the last few years, and midway through the second quarter they started to string together first downs and drive the ball downfield.  With the Eagles so insistent on stopping the Panther’s runner, Watson’s first pass of the game (he only threw seven all night) was a 22-yard strike to Andy Ruiz.  It didn’t deter the Eagles from spreading out, as they continued to hold the Panthers to short gains on the ground, so Watson threw a couple of more passes, one more to Ruiz and one to Jaramillo.  With some balance in their offense, Coconino was able to get the ball into the red zone and, with just 25 seconds left in the half, the Panthers completed their 14-play drive with Jaramillo smashing through the left side of the line for a 3-yard touchdown run.  Josemiguel Villanueva tacked on the extra point, putting the Panthers up, 7-0.

The Eagles tried revving up their passing game to try to get anything going before intermission.  Maier fired short passes to Sena for zero and seven yards, and while his next attempt to Spencer Smith went incomplete, a roughing-the-passer call brought the ball to the Eagles 42.  Maier tried going deep for the first time in the game, but his intended pass to Sena was intercepted in stride by Coconino’s junior DB Tyler Ragan.  Halftime:  Coconino 7, Flagstaff 0.

Coconino got the ball to start the second half.  French scooted for ten yards (his longest run of the night to this point), setting up the Panthers at their 46.  The Panthers were stymied on first and second down, losing yardage on each play, but of 3rd-and-14 from their 42, Watson let it fly again, flinging it to Ruiz, who hauled in the pass and took it the rest of the way for 58 yards.  The PAT was no good.  Coconino was up, 13-0, in large part because their passing offense was getting it done.

Flag High continued to flounder on offense, but after punting, they stopped the Panthers on fourth down, setting them up on their own 37.  On the next play, with Maier in the shotgun, Salcido took the handoff, sprinted through the middle of the line, and outraced the secondary for a thrilling 63-yard touchdown run to get the Eagles on the board.  Tanner Reiff booted the extra point, and as the third quarter came to a close, despite Flag High’s ineffectiveness on offense for most of the night, their defense was keeping them in the game as they were only down by one score, 13-7.

Coconino returned to form as they ran the ball on their ensuing drive.  Content with short runs that kept the chains moving and the clock ticking, the Panthers finally broke a long run, a 29-yarder by Callado that took them to the Flag High 14.  French took it in from there on the next play, and after failing on a two-point conversion, the Panthers were up 19-7 as the fourth quarter was just getting underway.

Another three-and-out by the Eagles forced them to punt; the Flag High defense had done an admirable job all game, led by Spencer Smith (10 tackles), Collin Doucette, and Gunner Price (nine each), and they came through again as they forced the Panthers to punt as well.  Time was starting to run out, but the Eagles, still not able to get anything going, punted again; a modest drive by the Panthers brought them to the Flag High 27, where they tried to convert on 4th-and-13, but Watson’s pass fell incomplete.  Now in a position to have to move the ball at all costs but still unable to, the Eagles were forced to go for it on 4th-and-17 from their own 30 with three minutes left, but Maier’s pass to Smith fell incomplete.

Three plays later, Patten took it in from 16 yards, and with the extra point, Coconino was up, 26-7.  That ended up the final score.

This was the fifth straight time the Panthers beat the Eagles.  They now lead the series, 27-26.

Salcido earned this year’s John Ply Memorial Award as he finished the game with 90 yards rushing, seven tackles, and, for the second year in a row, he scored Flag High’s only touchdown in the Rivalry game.  Ruiz had three catches for 89 yards and a score as he won the Bill Epperson Award.

Coconino 26, Flagstaff 7


Coconino learned the following morning that they had indeed qualified for the playoffs.  Cactus and American Leadership Academy at Queen Creek were removed from the 4A rankings and placed in the Open Division to take on the best in 5A and 6A for the Open Championship, which moved everyone else in the conference up a couple spots, leaving the Panthers at the #13 slot, facing the fourth-seeded Glendale Cardinals in Glendale.  The game didn’t start off well for the Panthers, as two quick Cardinal touchdowns put them up 14-0 early, but then the Cats settled down on both offense and defense and started to do what they do well: run the ball.  A TD run by Jacob Clouse, a TD reception by Gabriel Callado, and a 55-yard blast by French brought the score to 21-18, but the Cardinals tacked on one more score before going into halftime up, 28-18.  The Panthers beamed with confidence as they got the kickoff to start the second half and put together a long, time-consuming drive that took up over eight minutes in fifteen plays, but on 4th-and-8 on the Glendale 11, Watson rocketed a pass to Samuel Lawanson that bounced hard off his shoulder pads.  Six plays later, the Cards scored on another long run, making the score 35-18.  The Panthers couldn’t recover after that, as Glendale ran for 468 yards and seven touchdowns on their way to a 49-26 victory.  French had 170 yards, bringing his total for the year to 1,552 yards in nine games.

The Eagles fell to 4-6 and out of the playoffs and suffering a six-game losing streak to end the season, their longest in seven years.  While they will be able to count on several pieces of that offense that scorched defenses early in the season to return in 2022 (Weidinger, Sena, Wetzel), they’re going to have to decide which direction they’re going to take; are they going to be a run-oriented team like they were in 2020 when Luis Jaramillo was their wrecking ball of a runner, or are they going to be the pass-happy offense they were when Maier was hitting his stride?

An item to watch for going into 2022: the folks at Great Circle Media (the KAFF broadcast team of Dave Zorn, Reggie Eccleston, and Bubba Ganter) began to tinker with YouTube to broadcast games with both audio and video.  KAFF has become the radio champion for high school sports in Flagstaff, and late in the season, the crew began experimenting with live streaming on their YouTube channel, Great Circle Media TV (make sure you smash that Subscribe button!)  While certainly a work in progress, the team will be working out the kinks through the basketball season.  This is the next step in the evolution of Flagstaff high school sports, and while nothing can replace the experience of being at the stadium, this might become the next best thing.  



















CHS:   Jonathon Jaramillo 3 run (Josemiguel Villanueva PAT)       

CHS:   Enoch Watson 58 pass to Andy Ruiz (PAT no good)

FHS:    Marcus Salcido 63 run (Tanner Reiff (PAT)

CHS:   Cooper French 14 run (2 pt conversion no good)

CHS:   Ryker Patten 16 run (Villanueva PAT)








First Downs



Rushing (Att/Yds)



Passing (Att/Comp/Int)



Passing Yards



Total Offense








Cooper French:  27 carries, 112 yds, 1 TD; Gabriel Callado:  4 carries, 39 yds; Tyson Fousel: 3 carries, 22 yds; Ryker Patten:  3 carries, 12 yds, 1 TD; Jonathon Jaramillo:  5 carries, 8 yds, 1 TD; Jacob Clouse:  2 carries, 4 yds; Enoch Watson:  1 carry, 1 yd; Jonathon Padilla: 1 carry, 0 yds.


          Marcus Salcido:  8 carries, 90 yds, 1 TD; Holden Sena:  5 carries, 14 yds; Gunner Price:  2 carries, 3 yds; Jadon Wetzel:  1 carry, 1 yd; Spencer Smith:  1 carry, 0 yds; Bodie Maier:  8 carries, -6 yds.



          Enoch Watson:  7 att, 4 comp, 96 yds, 1 TD.


          Bodie Maier:  21 att, 9 comp, 32 yds, 1 INT.



          Andy Ruiz: 3 catches, 89 yds, 1 TD; Jonathon Jaramillo: 1 catch, 7 yds.


          Jake Weidinger:  3 catches, 22 yds; Holden Sena:  3 catches, 7 yds; Gunner Price: 2 catches, 3 yds; Spencer Smith: 1 catch, 0 yds.


Original story by Eric Newman of the Arizona Daily Sun; November 12, 2021

Coconino statistics by Dave Merrell as posted on Digital Scout

Flagstaff statistics by Bob Oberhardt as posted on MaxPreps

Image credits from various sources, primarily the Arizona Daily Sun (Jake Bacon and others)

Last updated:  December 12, 2021