10-23-2012 10:14:27 PM PST

Last week’s Rivalry Game had everything that made the series great.  It had crosstown rivals battling for playoff positioning, the winner in excellent position for one of the final postseason berths, the loser most likely to stay home in November.  It had teams on the rise, looking to finish off winning seasons after several years of mediocrity.  It had old-school coaches, well-steeped in the tradition of Flagstaff high school football.  It had two of the better defenses in Division III keeping the offenses in check.  It had an outcome that wasn’t decided until deep into the fourth quarter.  It had its heroes.  It had its big plays.  It had the student bodies from both schools cheering their lungs out and their corresponding bands urging them on with their fight songs.  It was a good game, a classic Rivalry game, and it had everything.


Everything, that is, except one important element…


The fans.


Perhaps, after years of struggling and a third school to blame, it’s going to take the city of Flagstaff some time to rediscover this very precious annual battle.  The schools are back, the kids are working their tails off, the coaches are smart, and the game was good.  Flag High beat Coconino 16-6 in Rivalry Game XLIV, but were you to take a head count around the Skydome, you wouldn’t have known it.  Flagcoco estimates a crowd of 4,000 attended the game, and that’s a crying shame.  The Dome’s gone through its renovations, losing quite a few seats in the process, I don’t know what the current seating is these days.  It was 15,000 back in the day, and every seat was taken to watch David Winsley fly up and down the gridiron, Audie McKee throw his bombs and Phillip Miller catch them, and the likes of Ceaser Polk, Stan Gill, Casper Rice, and so many more hometown heroes play their guts out.


So, in an era of fingerpointing, who are we going to blame?  We can’t blame Sinagua anymore, only the middle school remains.  We can’t blame Eddie Campos or George Moate, they’ve coached in this town for thirty-plus years apiece, each with his own share of success.  We can’t blame the programs, they’re both on the upswing after bottoming out the last few years; we have winning records and playoff aspirations to talk about instead of disgruntlement and futility.  And we certainly can’t blame the kids, especially the seniors for both teams who have been at the very bottom and have stuck it out to rebuild the Eagles and the Panthers back to respectability.


Even with both offenses stammering all night long, the Eagles were winning the battle for field position.  With 3:46 left in the first quarter, Marshall Brownfield plunged in from a yard out to get the Eagles on the board first.  Trace Anderson added a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter to put Flag High up 10-zip.  The favored Eagles had control on the field, even if it wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard.


But we’ve all seen this kind of game; the underdog isn’t put away and is allowed to stay within striking distance, and it remains a competitive game right up to the end.  The Panthers pushed their conservative offense as best as they could, running Bubba Daulton between the tackles, eventually popping one for 24 yards and the Cats’ first score with seven seconds left in the third; a missed extra point made the score 10-6 as the fourth quarter ensued, which meant anything was now possible.


The defenses, though, were dictating the pace of the game.  In recent weeks, Kyle Wilson had become comfortable running the Eagle offense as Campos was slowly opening it up; but tonight, he was ineffective, and Andrew Broadston and Regis Rumfola each picked him off.  Damian Alarcon didn’t fare much better; he only threw one interception, but he was harassed by the Eagles’ D-line all night, forcing him into errors and scrambling.  Both offenses were completely dependent on running the ball, most often in spurts, ending most drives with punts.


The game remained in doubt until 7:22 left, when Brownfield scored his second TD of the night, this time from three yards out.  The Panther offense is simply not constructed for making up two scores; it is reliant on its defense to keep it in the game and its offense to not make the big mistake.  Coconino has lived and died by it all season, they know who they are.


Flag High (7-2) will possibly make it to the postseason if they defeat Page this week.  No one, however, should consider Page a cakewalk.  With the Eagles’ strength of schedule, 7-3 will not assure them the playoffs.  They need to beat the Sand Devils just as bad as they needed to beat the Panthers if they are to control their own destiny.  That’s saying a lot.  The seniors on this team vividly remember going 0-for-2010 and 2-8 last year.  With the possibility of winning eight this season, Campos HAS to be on the short list for D-III Coach of the Year.


As for Coconino, they fall to 5-4, having lost three of their last four games.  They close out with Chino Valley, and a win will give them their first winning season since 2004, the last year Moate coached the Panthers.  By all accounts, this was a successful season for the Cats, and with underclassmen like Alarcon, Travis Walters, Torin Palmer, Austin Herre, and Stephen Sorden coming back in 2013, they’ve built a foundation for the future.


Flagcoco’s going to be there.  Should the Eagles make it to the playoffs and play in Phoenix in the first round, we’ll be there.  When the Panthers make their run next year, we’ll be there.  When the rivals clash again in about 361 days, we’ll be there.


Will the rest of Flagstaff be there with them?



10-16-2012 6:43:20 AM PST

I’m not going to make a prediction for the Rivalry Game.  Nope, not gonna do it.  You can’t make me.


Flag High (6-2) will probably be the media favorite going into the game, they’ve won four straight and have rolled in those games with a combined score of 203-24, 18 of those points against Kingman.  On the other hand, after starting off 4-1, Coconino (5-3) has lost two of their last three against tough traditional opponents Mingus and Winslow.  What will tilt the balance for the prognosticators is that Flag High beat Winslow, and Winslow crushed Coconino. 


There have been way too many games in the Rivalry Series to prove there’s no such thing as an underdog or a favorite.  Circumstances don’t matter.  Those who know will say you can throw the records and statistics out for this game, but that’s not going to prevent many of them from trying to predict anyway.  You can go back just to last year:  the Panthers were 4-4, fighting to keep their slender playoff dreams alive, going up against a mediocre 1-7 Eagles team, and what happened?  The obvious underdog managed to stay in the game until the fourth quarter, the decided favorite committed six turnovers, and a miracle chain of events at the very end let to a stunning decision.


Such things are commonplace in this Series, in case you didn’t know.


Here’s what I will predict, assuming both teams win their final regular season games against D-IV Chino Valley and Page (both having subpar seasons): 


Panther QB Damian Alarcon burrows through the Kingman defense1.  If Coconino loses, they will miss the playoffs.  Period.  With their strength of schedule and a 6-4 record, there’s just too many teams competing for the last playoff spot for them to make it.


2.  If Flag High loses, they will most likely miss the playoffs as well.  Same reasoning.  Just ask Sahuarita, who finished 7-3 last year but ranked #17.


3.  Thus, the winner of this year’s Duel in the Dome will squeeze into the playoffs.  Flag High will be more secure if they finish 8-2, but that was a bad loss for Coconino last week against Winslow, and it throws everything out of whack for them.  7-3 this year will put them on the bubble, sitting there with the likes of Agua Fria (coached by former Flag High head coach Craig Holland), Thunderbird (looking more and more like a contender after an 0-2 start), Paradise Valley (Ryan Finley, need I say more?), and Greenway (they’ll end the season as the best 6-4 team in the state). 


The Panthers won’t be on the bubble at all if they lose to Flag High. 


Hence, consider the showdown a play-in game, a virtual playoff battle two weeks before the real postseason begins.


It’s going to be a hotly-contested game, both teams have a lot to play for.  Coconino’s gunning for their first winning season since 2004, the last year George Moate was at the helm, and their first playoff appearance since ’05.  Flag High’s won six games this year, which is three times as much as they’ve won the last two seasons combined, but they haven’t been over .500 or in the postseason since they went 6-4 in 2007.  Neither team has been truly relevant since the middle of the last decade, and both teams have bottomed out in recent years, with the Panthers going winless in 2007 and the Eagles in 2010.  In many ways, this year has been a glorious success all around, and both programs should be proud of themselves, as it seems old-school coaching has brought them back to prominence.


It’s possible, but not likely, that both teams could make the playoffs with a 7-3 record.  Had both teams made it to this game with 6-2 records, we could talk such fantasy.  Truly, an 8-2 team would be set in the middle of the pack and perhaps gain a #10 seeding, with 7-3 possibly at #14, give or take.  6-4’s just not going to do it this year.  Heck, 7-3 is the bubble.  Yes, there is a shred of hope out there that, if Coconino wins and both teams are 7-3, they’ll both get in, and mathematically, with Flag High at 8-2 and Coconino at 6-4, there’s still the possibility.  Just don’t bet the farm on it.

 Kyle Wilson leads the rejuvenated Eagle offense

There are things to break down and analyze, to be sure.  Flag High is clicking with their spread offense, and coach Eddie Campos has found a quarterback who can run it in Kyle Wilson.  Coconino’s offense is much more conservative, running between the tackles, ball control, don’t make too many mistakes.  While both defenses are in the Top Ten in Division III in terms of points allowed, Coconino defines itself by it.


In terms of pre-game set-up, this match-up resembles the classic Rivalry more so than any other game in the last decade.  Flag High’s offense versus Coconino’s defense.  Both teams in position to make the playoffs and possibly knock the other out of the postseason picture.  How many games in the past have we seen like this?


As such, I offer no prediction.  I’ll be at the game, I’ll sit with Flag High in the first half and Coconino in the second.  I’ll root hard for good, spirited play, and if everything pans out, it will be a close defensive struggle that comes down to the final minutes. I’ll watch the bands at halftime and get chills when I hear the fight songs.  I’ll take a lot of pictures and a lot of notes.  I’m a Panther with family Eagle ties.  My biggest rooting interest is for the Rivalry itself.  The winner will very likely be in the playoffs, the loser will be on the bubble and likely won’t play in November.  Win and you’re in.



10-09-2012 3:43:10 PM PST

The AIA’s “skunk rule” is designed to keep teams from running up the score when playing obviously overmatched opponents.  There are a lot of blowouts every week, and even after a team is up by forty points (the point where the clock runs nonstop to kill the remainder of the game faster), the dogpile continues.  I find it disgusting on several levels.  While I sympathize with the AIA (there are over 250 high schools in Arizona fielding football teams in six divisions, I’m sure it’s as easy to create a decent schedule as it is to herd cats), they can do better than this.


I was critical when Saguaro was running up scores against Fountain Hills and this week against Washington (76-6 is just freaking ridiculous), and I have to remain consistent in being critical when Flag High and Coconino have Tuba City on their schedules and blow them out in similar fashion.  A few weeks ago, Flag High pummeled the Warriors, 69-zip; this week, Coconino went up there and pounded them, 54-0.  While I’m on record in calling Saguaro head coach Jason Mohns a douche, I can’t bag on him for running up scores and let Flag High’s Eddie Campos and Coconino’s George Moate off the hook for doing the same.


If the Flagstaff schools have any say in the matter, they NEED to get Tuba City off their football schedules.  While it’s an easy win, it almost does more harm than good.Cory Chavez slices through the Warrior defense as the Eagles drop 69 points on Tuba City


I know and respect Tuba City High School, and from my personal experiences, I know they are much more competitive against the Flagstaff schools in other sports.  I can specifically name cross country and basketball (both boys and girls) where they are more than a match for Flag High and Coconino.  Their football teams, however, are not as competitive.  They just aren’t.  That’s not a knock against them, they play at their own level as best as they can, and they fare better against the competition in Division IV.  Playing teams in their own general region (northeast Arizona) that are about the same size (most of the schools on the Navajo and Hopi reservations are in Divisions IV and V), and they can hold their own.  They certainly don’t get throttled week in and week out by the likes of Page and Window Rock.  I’m sure Winslow and Holbrook are tougher for them, and while Blue Ridge would whip them just as bad as the Flagstaff schools do (that’s not saying much, Blue Ridge is the perennial D-IV favorite and would beat many D-III schools and even a few decent teams in D-II), they’re not scheduled to play this year.


Page is another story.  Page has had seasons where they’ve beaten the Flagstaff schools, not just in given games, but for division titles.  It wasn’t that long ago, back in the Grand Canyon Division in the old 4A, the Sand Devils were beating them both and winning the division outright.  They beat Flag High last year.  The last two times they played the Panthers, true, the Panthers posted a combined score of 110-7.  But in 2010, the last year of 4A ball, they beat Flag High and Coconino on their way to a 7-2 mark and the playoffs.


They also beat Tuba City that year, 52-0.


Coconino and Flag High are both sitting at 5-2 and on the bubble for making the playoffs.  Coconino hasn’t made the postseason since 2005, Flag High since ’07.  Since then, both teams have suffered long losing streaks and winless seasons.  Just last year, Flag High struggled through a 2-8 year, and Coconino was 3-7 the year before that.  To sit here and criticize both schools for their light schedules might be presumptuous on my part, and perhaps I should lighten up and enjoy their success.  Maybe I should save this criticism until the offseason, let the schedule-makers do their thing after this season shakes out.  The Eagles and Panthers are relevant again, Russell, why are you bagging on them?


I’m bagging on them because, at 5-2, they should not be on the outside of the playoffs looking in.  Their strength of schedule is weak, and it matters a great deal when you start looking at the AIA seedings.  Teams with more losses are ahead of them.  You need an engineering degree to understand this year’s AIA seeding formula, but it’s clear their schedule is holding them back


I’m looking a few years ahead on this, I know, and I realize Campos and Moate won't be coaching forever; they’ve come to rebuild their programs quickly, to restore some of their former glory, and then to hand the reins off to the next generation.  Considering the complete lack of respect they were getting before the season (Coconino was #32 and Flag High a dead last #40 in the Maxpreps predictions), even talking about the playoffs is a major accomplishment.  Finishing in the top sixteen for one of them would be a near miracle, and here we are, three games left, and both teams are on the miracle route.  It’s going to suck, though, if they’re sitting there at 7-3 and they miss the playoffs behind a 6-4 team because of strength of schedule.



I truly hope this is the last time the Flagstaff schools play Tuba City in football.  Winning like this almost does more harm than good.    


09-29-2012 1:13:39 AM PST

While things in the Flagcoco world seem to becoming more interesting with every week, this project is ultimately about the players, past and present.  Probably the only guy who finds the minutia in developing this website somewhat interesting is me.  Thus, let me devote one long, choppy sentence to the nuts and bolts, and then I can talk at length about the things that make this site worth coming to.  Ready?

 After all the pictures of Willard Reaves and Stan Gill and all the other rivalry greats posted on the Facebook page THIS is the most popular to date of Coco coach Michael Alarcon from 1986 and 2012

I thank KVNA for the love and hope to talk with them and maybe do something neat down the road; I visited Stan Gill again and look forward to seeing him again soon, maybe when the playoffs start (his son Kyle is running the ball for Williams Field, and it’s quite possible Coconino or Flag High could be going there in the first round); we are way ahead if our goals in terms of site traffic (we wanted 200 Likes on our Facebook page by the time of the Rivalry Game and we’re at 228 with three weeks to go, and we’re at 5,100 visitors to the mother site with the goal of 6,000 within reach);  I have tentative plans to sit with players from my time over the next couple of games; I missed going to a game this week with Charlie because of work, but I was able to catch the second half of the Coconino-Mingus game on KVNA, streamed on the Internet; I think the Daily Sun website is ignoring my comments on their bad articles after they couldn’t even get the high school Coconino was playing right (it’s DYSART, editors, not DYSON); it’s three weeks till the Rivalry Game and I am geeked!


Now onto the things that matter.


Don’t look now, but Flag High has won four of their last five games.  They won two in 2010 and 2011 combined.  I really wish I could talk more about them, their style of play, some of their players, but they won’t be making their usual trip to the Phoenix area this year, so I’m out of luck.  It’s okay, they’re listed as the away team in five of their games, but they’re playing seven games this year in the Dome, and I’d rather see them winning on their turf, even if it means me missing out.


Damian Alarcon plowing through the Kingman defenseCoconino has a stud in the making in Damian Alarcon.  I met the kid, he’s listed as 6’1” and 205 pounds, but he’s got to be bigger than that, and he plays bigger than a sophomore quarterback should.  The Panthers play a rather conservative offense by necessity, and for the most part it works for them, it’s part of their identity (play tough defense and don’t make too many mistakes on defense, and you stand a chance to win), but in tonight’s game against Mingus, he played a little beyond the confines of George Moate’s playcalling.  He can scramble, he has a cannon for an arm, he can put his head down and barrel through opponents.  And he’s only going to get better from here.  He has six touchdowns rushing so far (mostly the short-range, QB sneak at the goal line type), but only 224 yards passing in six games.  He has nearly as many rushing attempts (46) as he does passing attempts (52).  I like the kid a lot, and part of his problem is being confined within a strict offensive scheme, but he’s got a lot of potential, and I have no doubt he’ll be throwing the ball all over the field next year and we’ll be talking about him on the All-Arizona team as a senior.


The reason they’re 4-2 is because, as I’ve said time and again, they don’t make the gratuitous mistakes they were making this time last year.  Turnovers play as much a part of the game at the high school level as in college and the pros, and after six games, Coconino is +3 (7 giveaways, 10 takeaways).  That says it all right there.  Remember the games they lost last season, especially the Winslow and Flag High games, where they could have win if they weren’t fumbling all the damn time?  They’ve committed seven turnovers in six games; they committed six in the Flag High game alone last year.  They’re not making the silly mistakes this time around, and when you can take care of the ball and play some solid defense, you’re going to stay in most of your games till the very end.


Tonight’s game, though, showed the Panthers’ two glaring weaknesses:


1.  They can play lights-out defense, but they can get worn down.

2.  They play so tight to the vest on offense that they can’t play catch-up very well.


Mingus proved both of these things, and hopefully Coach Moate will address them before the Rivalry Game and potentially the playoffs.  The Marauders took control in the second half with long, time-consuming drives, running right down Coconino’s throat, and by the fourth quarter, the Panthers were gassed.  They stayed in the game with their defense, but their offense could never get over the hump; once they got down 16-3, needing to come up with big plays, it was the defense, not the offense, that did it, starting with a punt blocked and returned by big Jared Krall to the Mingus 2, and even with that, the Panthers couldn’t score until Alarcon plunged in on fourth down.  This is a team with heart, they didn’t give up when they were down, but they are flawed, and teams that can run the ball effective against Coconino will be able to wear them down at the end of games and win by a touchdown because the Panther offense simply isn’t designed to come from behind.


Both teams will have easier games next week.  I never say you can chalk up a win automatically, but you can damn near do that when it comes to Tuba City; I hope neither team has to ever play them again, it’s heartless.  I hate it when other teams are scheduled a couple of creampuffs and run up the score on them, it’s no different here, I call out my own.  Flag High hosts Chino Valley, but this could be a tough one for the Eagles; they lost to them 41-21 last year, but it seems 2011 is light years away. 


Looking down the line, the Eagles could very well go into the Rivalry game at 6-2, assuming they can beat Chino Valley and Glendale (Glendale is almost the Division III version of Tuba City), but you never know, Glendale crushed Flag High 52-8 last year.  After Tuba City, Coconino has the always-tough Winslow Bulldogs, and while you’d have to give the edge to the Panthers on paper, Winslow always gives Coconino their A-game.


Think about that for a minute.  If both teams win the next two games, they’ll both be at 6-2, 12-4 combined.  Last year they were 5-11 combined (Coconino at 4-4 with a very slim shot at the playoffs, Flag High at 1-7 and looking to play spoiler) when the Rivalry Game comes around.  How much of a difference does coaching make?  You’re seeing it right now in Flagstaff.  Eddie Campos and George Moate have their kids believing they can win every game, and they both have decades of experience and success to back up what they’re telling their players.  It makes me want to give Maxpreps the middle finger for ranking both these teams so low at the start of the season, and I’ll never get over Flag High being ranked dead last in a 40-team league; when this week’s AIA ratings come out, don’t be surprised to see both teams hovering around #16, right there on the bubble for making the playoffs.  What a difference a year makes.  And we still have at least four games to go!



09-22-2012 7:31:17 AM PST

On a night where the offense struggled for three quarters, special teams made costly mistakes, and turnovers could have killed them, Coconino did what good teams do:  they found a way to win. 


Thank God, if nothing else, the Panthers can play some serious defense.


Stephen Sorden scored from 28 yards out, running off left tackle, to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead with five minutes left.  He then put the game away with an interception on fourth down with 1:10 left to kill the Dysart Demons’ final drive.


Both defenses were outstanding, never letting the other getting into rhythm.  When it counted most, however, on a night where the Panther offense was largely stymied and couldn’t put points on the board, it was the defense making big plays in key situations that got them over the hump.


Cases in point:  Defensive end Luke Ross chalked up two batted passes and a sack in key second-half situations, both effectively ending Demons’ threats.  Underrated big man Jared Krall stuffed a draw play on a night where Dysart was using the draw play with moderate success.  The Demons’ most serious offensive threat came in the first half, getting to the Coconino 5 in the closing moments, only to have their drive killed with a goal line stand.


The Panthers made all their mistakes in the first half.  Between Damian Alarcon’s first quarter interception, Bubba Daulton’s second quarter fumble, and a bad punt snap that forced the punter to scoop it up off the ground and run for a loss, they gave the Demons several chances to cash in.  That stifling defense, though, simply would not allow it to happen, and the team and diehard fans who made the trip from Flagstaff to watch breathed a collective sigh of relief to go into the locker room tied at zero.


Still scoreless after three quarters (the lone scoring threat of the third saw Coconino drive to the Dysart 2, only to see a Sorden 19-yard field goal attempt bounce off the left upright), the Panther offense finally got on track, starting with a 31-yard catch-and-run by Travis Walters that brought them to the 2.  Alarcon punched it in on a sneak two plays later.  Before anyone could enjoy the lead, the Panthers gave it right back to the Demons, unable to stop Desmond Passi on an all-over-the-field 90 yard kickoff return for a touchdown.  Extra points good meant that, for all the fireworks in so short of a span, the game was still tied, this time at 7 apiece.


Coconino never got that one long, time-consuming drive you’d like to see to kill the rest of the game clock, but in the end, the Panthers relied on that classic Panther football we’ve been seeing all season:  ball-control offense that doesn’t cough up the ball at the worst times, and relying on suffocating defense to win the day.  It’s not always a pretty way to win a ball game, but it was effective enough tonight.


And it’s effective enough to bring the Panthers’ record to 4-1.  Were it not for a Ryan Finley miracle at the end of the Paradise Valley game, this would be an undefeated team at the halfway mark.  This is definitely not the team I watched get crushed like a beer can last year at PV.  This team has confidence.  It knows itself.  It has discipline and intelligence.  It has a collective soul.  It’s hardly perfect, and they can’t afford to make mistakes like they did tonight against the top Division III schools if they hope to make some noise in the playoffs.  But from this point on, you look at the rest of the schedule, and while there are some tough games coming up (starting with Mingus next week, and there’s still Winslow and Flag High), they’re all winnable. 


You look at Dysart, 1-3 going into this game, and that’s a misleading record.  Their three losses came at the hands of Liberty, Sunrise Mountain (both title contenders), and Agua Fria (perennial playoff team); their lone victory was against Glendale, which doesn’t mean much, everyone beats Glendale.  They have All-State nose tackle Fa’asuaga Tinoisamoa (“Tino” on his Facebook page), who is definitely the heart and soul of that team (their pre-game rituals include a Samoan chant and dance, no doubt taught to them by Tino), and I thought the Panthers would have a tough time running the ball between the tackles with him clogging up the middle.  And they did, because that’s what the Panthers do, they’re okay with a steady diet of five-yard blasts, so long as the clock keeps moving and they’re not shooting themselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers.  But Tino did not have a superlative game, the Demons defense was strong but not suffocating, and to his credit, Jared Krall kept Tino’s name from being said even once by a very spirited PA announcer.


The Panthers are not a team that can quickly put points on the board.  This is what they are, they’re okay with it, and they’re winning this way.  Perhaps, in a couple of years, if the offense begins to click better (Alarcon is a sophomore and the future of this team), they’ll be more dynamic, they’ll use pages of their playbook they’re obviously not using now, and that offense will open up and be able to stretch a defense out.  They can’t play from behind, they’re not designed for it, but if their defense continues like this, they won’t have to very often.  They’ve got some studs on that defense, there is some size and speed out there, they’re not going to be complete pushovers come playoff time.  On nights like tonight, with the offense in a funk, the defense can keep them in the game and even win it for them.  It’s not always pretty, but it was effective tonight, and it kept the Flagstaff faithful on the edge of their seats.


I’m not even going to start with Flag High’s 69-0 stomping of Tuba City.  They’re SUPPOSED to stomp Tuba City.  Even last year, after going 0-for-2010 and starting 2011 with four losses, it was beating Tuba City 56-8 that ended the horrible losing streak.  I always have a problem with these kinds of games, it doesn’t matter who is playing, I’m very critical of the winning team when I see that kind of a score.  To Eagles’ Coach Eddie Campos, though, I give him credit for not trying to drop a hundred on the Warriors; Flag High was up by an incredible 55-0 score in the first quarter.  It’s obvious Campos called off the dogs early in this one.  Next week will be a bigger challenge when they play Kingman at Kingman, but Flag High is now 3-2, with more wins in a half a year this year than in the last two complete seasons combined.  It’s a process, Campos is rebuilding the Eagles from scratch, and it’s going to take time before he’s doing what the Panthers are doing, namely, winning with consistency and a sense of identity.  It’s taken the Panthers four years to come back from bottoming out (they won three out of 30 games in 2006-2008, including a winless 2007 and a 21-game losing streak—Tuba City was not on the schedule those three years), it’s going to take time for the Eagles to do the same.  But they’re ahead of the curve, and for a team who was dead last in the Maxpreps preseason rankings to be over .500 at the halfway mark should mean something to you, especially in the context of their recent history.


It’s nights like this, however, that thrill me and convince me Flagcoco was a good project to start.  I’m sorry our Coconino contributor, Richard Walters, couldn’t make the trip down (his other son was playing at the same time in Flagstaff on a team Richard coaches, they won in a shutout), and I’m sorry my grandson Charlie had other commitments for the night.  I did, however, get to chat with Panthers JV coach Michael Alarcon before the game for a good 15 minutes, I’ve known him since seventh grade at East Flag Junior High; I also got to meet Robin Cook, she runs Coconino FBPictures on Facebook and is a stalwart presence with her camera on the sidelines, it was great putting a face to the name.  A few of the parents went to school in Flagstaff when I did and I talked to a couple of them, including Robyn Martin Herre, whose best friend dated my brother when they were kids.  The highlight, though, was going onto the field after the game, first for getting to shake George Moate’s hand for the first time since he was as assistant coach on the freshman East Flag team I played on in 1983 (I had been trying to get up to Flag to visit with him for months over Flagcoco, he seemed very pleased to see me and thanked me for being so respectful throughout the process), then for getting to shake Damian Alarcon’s hand as Michael brought his son over to meet me; it was a twofold blessing, one because it was obviously a proud father showing off his son to an old friend, but also because Alarcon is the Panthers’ quarterback of tomorrow, he holds the same honor as those great quarterbacks from years past, and while he can’t be compared to Audie McKee or Yancey Ayres or Sammy Cockerel just yet, having the reverence I have for the Flagstaff teams, he is now part of their legacy.


This is why I’m so geeked to do this project.  Between spending the morning chatting with Stan Gill a couple of weeks ago and going down onto the field tonight, it’s nailing it into my head that I have a really cool hobby.  If you can combine the two worlds of the nerd and the jock (something generally taboo in high school), the synthesis would be Flagcoco.  I want this to continue, I want Flagcoco to grow and become a permanent and necessary fixture in Flagstaff football, I want to continue to meet people and build the base and do more neat things down the road, and I hope you’ll be part of it all.



09-10-2012 11:49:30 PM PST

The magic of this project, ultimately, will not come from the dissection of programs, analysis of X’s and O’s, predictions of the rise and fall of teams, or reports of scores and standings.  In the ten months since Flagcoco was born, it’s gained a small but loyal following, primarily from those who lived in Flagstaff and remember when the rivalry was at its height, and that base is only going to grow as long as I keep working at it.  The pictures and updates and statistics and game summaries are all good things, but that’s not what’s going to keep people coming back.


It’s going to be putting human faces, human souls, human stories to the data and images that will make Flagcoco special enough to make visitors come back and tell their friends.


I knew that from the start, but it hit me hard today when I went to visit Stan Gill.  When I began this last November and listed the personalities that HAD to be part of this in one way or another, Stan was at the top of the list.  In 1981, he had led the Eagles to their first state championship in 45 years, rushed for 2,110 yards and 35 touchdowns, and finished his high school career as the fifth leading rusher in Arizona history.  He moved on with a scholarship to Stanford, got a world-class degree in engineering, and has lived a terrific life ever since with his wife Miriam and his kids.  

 Stan Gill wore number 36 for the Cardinal and walked the sideline with John Elway

Two things really impressed me concerning our conversation.  One, he likes what it is Flagcoco’s trying to do, and he has contributed to the cause (said contributions will be posted as we roll along); and two, while we did talk about the good old days in Flagstaff and playing football, we talked more about things that matter.  Yes, I asked a few dumb questions, like, hey, you were a freshman at Stanford when John Elway was a senior, and, hey, were you there when California scored that miracle touchdown and spiked the trombone player?  After that, after the brief hero worship and nervousness, it turned into a really good talk about education, the definition of a great athlete, and life decisions.  It was two hours worth of discussion that proved to me this project is worth the work, because it humanized someone I had only known as a football hero, and previous to today I couldn’t picture him without shoulder pads.  Of course I knew he had a life, but you just don’t consider it when you’re doing a project specific to football, and I walked in thinking conversation would be just about that one theme. 


It still awes me that Flagcoco actually means something to people beyond the curiosity level.  Stan offered a couple of albums full of newspaper clippings his mother collected, some images I already had, but my collection was so horrid as they had come from thirty-year-old microfilm from the State Library that repeats are very welcome.  I think about it, why is it that someone who was so big in Flagstaff back in the day, someone with a Stanford degree, a remarkable career, a beautiful house and family, would welcome a stranger to his home, over a podunk website that will never be for profit?  It’s one thing for me to push it on Facebook and get my high school buddies to look at it, but when the personalities on my wish list start becoming part of the Flagcoco family, it grows in stature.  This is what I hoped I would be doing when I daydreamed about this, back when the project was just brainstorming and hit-and-miss research.  Days like today make me believe the dumb ideas I had concerning this aren’t as far-fetched as they may have seemed.  People want to see where this goes, people want to contribute, even if I think they’re too big to care, and I ought not shrivel away from the possibility of doing at least this one thing that might actually kick ass.


I just hope I didn’t look like an idiot to him.  I hope I at least sounded like I know a little of what I’m peddling, that I didn’t come across as a novice, and that I could keep up with conversation.  Even if this project might be something others might want to be part of, I still have to sell it and meet the very people I write about in an historical manner.  I’m overweight, graying, baggy-eyed, and have always let feelings of inferiority hold me back, yet there are days like today where I get to chat with Stan Freaking Gill for two hours. 


I thank him immensely, the day could have been ten minutes long, not much more than Here’s the pictures, thank you, please get them right back to me, have a good day.  It would have still been worth the trip, and the mancrush I had on him would not have been in vain, but the conversation transcended the narrow scope of the project, and this became much more real for me, more human.  That’s where Flagcoco has to be special, because static numbers and pictures won’t matter if there’s not something personal to it.  Part of that comes from going to games and bringing Charlie with me, but this is another element, a very significant element.  It brings these personalities out of the mythology I created way back when, it reminds me they’re not gods in Flagstaff’s football pantheon, and it makes this project about something more significant than an annual rivalry game.  I still believe the game is a microcosm of the Flagstaff I grew up in and is the best rivalry in Arizona, and in and of itself that’s worthy to pursue, but when others join the party, it can only improve.



09-01-2012 1:34:41 AM PST

This weekend will be the first in hopefully many where I don’t have to deal with the frustration of waiting on other and allegedly more expert sites for basic things like scores.  I’m not exaggerating, the AIA—the OFFICIAL site for Arizona high school sports—didn’t post the Flag High-Poston Butte results until Wednesday.  This week will be much smoother, thanks to contributors Rich Walters (father of Coconino junior Travis Walters) and Steve Philpott (father of Flag High senior Cody Philpott).  Steve relayed the Flag High game score to Rich, Rich relayed that score and the Coconino game score to me, and I posted them both, just two hours after the conclusion of both games and well before any of the three previously mentioned expert sites could say the same thing.


That’s making Flagcoco much more fun to do, being relevant as well as nostalgic.  It’s coming together, and I hope it climaxes twice down the road, first for the Rivalry Game on October 19, and again after the Division III championship game about five weeks after that.


What’s also making it fun is the action on the field, and I can say that threefold:


1.  Coconino is looking like a legitimate playoff team already, and I hope I didn’t just put the jinx on them for saying it in Week #2.  After pounding Page and losing a squeaker to the third-ranked Paradise Valley Trojans, the Panthers are 1-1, the same record as last year at this time, but it’s a much different feel, and Coach Moate has put together a team that plays solid defense, that doesn’t make a plethora of mistakes, and, most important, that is starting to believe in itself.


2.  Flag High is no longer in Division III’s cellar, and their 27-14 win over Mohave should make it clear that Coach Campos is indeed turning the program around, a program that went 0-for-2010 and 2-8 last year, a program that desperately needed a profound boost and may have gotten it when they shocked Coconino last year in the Rivalry Game.  If nothing else, the Eagles will not be dead last in the Maxpreps rankings, that honor will most likely go to Glendale, and I’m pretty sure they’ll jump past the likes of Amphitheater and Copper Canyon as well.  I’m thinking #35 with a bullet, and if they can be competitive with the always-tough Winslow Bulldogs, maybe crack the top thirty…?  Maybe?


3.  After watching Saguaro lose to Paradise Valley last week and damn near lose to Thunderbird this week, the defending champs are already on the ropes, and I had the privilege of watching both games and watching them vacillate.  Luke Rubenzer is second only to Ryan Finley in terms of D-III quarterbacking honors, but he can’t do it all, even if he tries to.  They can’t play pass defense at all (T-Bird QB Jake Glatting lit the Sabercats up for three touchdowns without a pick), their whole team is dinged up (Christian Kirk was a no-show again, and all-state center Devin Brunetti was hurt against PV and did not suit up this week), and coaches and players are realizing they have to do more to win a game than hand the ball off to D.J. Foster and watch.  This team is in trouble, and I absolutely love watching dynasties in trouble; if they’re playing this way now, what’s going to happen whenKai Benoit burned the Sabercats for three touchdowns including a 95 yard thriller they get to the meat of their schedule?  Paradise Valley and Thunderbird are no slouches to be sure, but Saguaro beat both teams easily last season.  I guarantee you, every coaching staff in the division is dissecting game film and taking copious notes, because the Sabercats are not just vulnerable, they’re very beatable, and so long as you have a competent QB, a spirited defense (I still say, knowing Rubenzer runs at least half the time he drops back, teams would be wise to have a linebacker shadow him all game), and a complete lack of mistakes (Saguaro has suffered six turnovers and a blocked field goal attempt so far; Paradise Valley had no turnovers, and the only T-Bird giveaway was on the final play of the game as they were trying to turn a mid-range reception into a miracle), you will not only stay in the game with them, you stand a good chance of winning.


What a difference a year makes, eh?  Last year Flag High was losing ugly, Coconino was inconsistent, and Saguaro was unstoppable.  It’s still early, their old form could return, but for now, 2012 has been a whole new ballgame.


One thing I definintely need to do is bring a camera to these games.  If Flagcoco is, in part, trying to capture the essence of high school football spirit, I have to take pictures.  Although more people showed up at the Paradise Valley game, the student section at Thunderbird was fantastic, wearing school colors, shouting cheers along with the cheerleaders, the band's drum section breaking off and doing their own thing.  I brought my grandson Charlie, as I hope to do every week, and while he doesn't yet understand the game or the culture behind it, he enjoys the energy, the feel of the game, the ability to clap and shout and stomp when called for.  Game images are riveted already in my mind, from Ryan Finley's exquisite last-second touchdown pass last week to Kani Benoit's breathtaking 95-yard romp down the visitors' sidelines this week, but while the game is center stage, there's other things going on, and eventually I want to start a Scrapbook page here, which will differ from the Gallery page in that the Gallery is about images from games gone by, nearly exclusive to gameplay, while the Scrapbook will be images of Charlie and me interacting with the world of high school football, meeting people, taking shots of marching bands, images from the stands, things like that.


Until then, I really like where Flagcoco is going, and all I have to do now is wait for Maxpreps to tally up all the scores and deliver their rankings for the week.



08-28-2012 9:34:10 PM PST

Week #1 is in the books, and the only items that held true were the teams on the field.  Most everyone could have predicted the Panthers kicking the crap out of Page and the Eagles struggling (but still looking somewhat better) against Poston Butte.  That, however, is about all the held to form, and while I understand this was the first week of Flagcoco as an active entity and a little less of an nostalgic artifact, this week fractured my expectations and is making me scramble for a Plan B.


The big thing I learned this week is the Arizona Interscholastic Association, Maxpreps, and the Arizona Daily Sun, combined, don’t have their shit completely together, and that’s not good for a website like this one that is dependent on their resources for its success.  I write this on Tuesday morning, and the Flag High-Poston Butte result from Friday night is STILL not on the AIA website.  It’s on Maxpreps, but originally they couldn’t get the score right, reporting one score in the box score and another in their headline.  Same sort of thing for the Coconino-Page game, the AIA quickly had the 55-zip score posted, but when the Daily Sun reported a few hours later, it became 51-0, with Maxpreps concurring, even though the box score tallies and scoring summaries proved the Panthers ran up 55 points.


I’ve taken to voicing my frustrations on the Daily Sun website.  They submitted their first story on the Panthers and Eagles on Friday, THE DAY THE SEASON STARTED, the first report since the end of last season, and everything on it was months’-old news.  They submitted a similar article on the Kickoff Classic, posting it literally a couple of hours before it started; you would think an event where the Dome is hosting six football games in two days would be something announced a little in advance to generate interest.  While I know high school football doesn’t generate the same fervor as it did when I was going to school in Flagstaff, there’s still something to be said about getting ahead of the story,  to use your forum to arouse intrigue.  I made a remark on the Kickoff Classic article that it’s little wonder the Dome doesn’t get filled up anymore for the Eagles and Panthers if the local newspaper doesn’t take any more of an interest; that comment was rejected, but the one for the season starting got past the censors.


There is one place that’s showing the Panthers a little love.  Last week, the Arizona Republic was doing its section-by-section previews, and they named two Panthers, Avery Baker and Christian Daulton as players to watch.  When their website, azcentral.com, put together their Week One roundup, they talked about Jared Krall as a very underrated lineman and the reason why Coconino ran all over the Page defense.  While Maxpreps ranked the Panthers #32 in Division III in their preseason rankings and the Daily Sun is waiting until the very last freaking second to post anything at all about the home teams, it’s nice to see the Republic offering us something a tad nicer.


My hope is to have an embed for each team, someone who can just post me the scores to the games as they finish, without having to sit all night at the AIA site and Maxpreps and watch them screw it up.  I need to get back with a buddy, we graduated from Coconino together, and he has a son on the Panthers varsity team.  He saw my whining on Facebook and has offered to post me the scores, seeing as how he intends on going to every game this year and next.  I ran into him last year at the Coco-Paradise Valley game, I wasn’t all that talkative, I was more in shock than anything to be there and to hang with him for a couple of hours; these days I have more to talk about.


Eventually this weekly review will be more about the games themselves and less about the politics surrounding them.  I wrote about the Paradise Valley-Saguaro game, and it’s true, that game was why I’m doing this, why I am much more geeked about high school football than the pros this year.  The game itself was superb, and watching Luke Rubenzer and Ryan Finley orchestrate their offenses and trade roundhouse blows like the heavyweights they are was like going to Football Heaven, but for as much as I’ll remember Finley’s game-winning pass, I’ll remember my grandson, Charlie, three years old, not understanding the game, but enjoying it all the same.  I remember bending down to him, both of us screaming in jubilation, me shouting ,”Yeah, they did it!”, and him looking up at me, also screaming in joy and jumping up and down, probably because the whole rest of the home side was doing the same and he was feeding off that tremendous energy.


Hopefully we’ll have more of that this coming week.  I tentatively plan to take Charlie to the Arcadia-Washington game this coming Friday.  Coconino hosts Paradise Valley at Cromer Stadium, and while I believe I have a mancrush on Ryan Finley, I’m convinced the Panthers will do better against them this year than last year when they lost 55-15.  If they can go without a lot of fumbles and bad penalties and somehow, someway, force the Trojans’ runningbacks to beat them, they may stay in the game.  That’s a tall order, but Coach Moate’s been at this for a long time, I’m sure he’ll do something to slow down the Trojan receivers, get a little pressure on Finley, and if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot, they stand a chance.  As for the Eagles, they play Mohave in the Dome, I think they’re better than advertised, certainly better than the editions from the last two years where they lost 18 of 20 games, most of them rather ugly.  Poston Butte made the playoffs last year and annihilated the Eagles; this year the Flag High defense kept the Broncos in check for a little over a half, and if they can put together any semblance of offense, they will string a few wins together.  Mohave would be a perfect game to start.  If nothing else, the Eagles play seven games in the Dome this year, by mere home field advantage they ought to win a few.



08-25-2012 12:58:00 AM PST

Division III is now officially wide open.  With Paradise Valley’s miraculous 32-29 upset win over the universally-picked #1 team in the division (and one of the top five teams in the state, regardless of division) and defending state champs, the Saguaro Sabercats, the whole of Arizona has been put on notice, having two points proved for all to see:


1.  Ryan Finley is the real deal.

2.  The Sabercats, despite what you might have otherwise thought, are human.


I had looked forward to this matchup ever since the schedule was posted on the AIA website and realized everyone in the state just flipped the home’s and away’s.  Last year, the Sabercats crushed the Trojans, 60-28, mostly behind the running of now-Sun Devil D.J. Foster.  Ever since the All-Arizona team came out, with Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer making First Team and Finley getting Honorable Mention honors, I knew a rematch would be scintillating, and the game would be as much Finley vs. Rubenzer as Trojans vs. Sabercats.

 Luke Rubenzer and Ryan Finley fought a titanic battle that came down literally to the final play

The game more than lived up to the billing.  Finley passed for four touchdowns, including the game winner with one second left on the clock, a fade pattern to Joey Gatewood from 18 yards out.  Rubenzer was just as impressive with his own four touchdowns, two on the ground and two in the air.  In other words, all eight touchdowns were attributed to Finley and/or Rubenzer.


It’s hard to determine whether or not Paradise Valley won that game, or Saguaro lost it.  The Sabercats gave up three turnovers and committed several costly fouls at the worst possible moments, including two that nullified touchdowns of their own and two to keep Finley’s game winning drive alive.  The Trojans, on the other hand, played well over their heads, especially on defense, playing bend-but-don’t-break most of the night; most important, they committed no turnovers of their own, and in a game where you’re playing a team in dynasty mode, you’re allowed no mistakes whatsoever.


That’s not saying the Trojans played a perfect game, because they certainly didn’t, especially early on.  Consider it opening-night jitters if you must, but nearly every Finley pass in the first quarter hit a receiver in the hands, and nearly every one of them hit the grass.  They gave up a quick touchdown, a Rubenzer slant pass to I think Kash Robinson, who collected it and sprinted for a 51-yard score.  They racked up plenty of penalties themselves, and they botched a couple of long snaps, one of them resulting in a safety as Finley had to cover the ball in the end zone to prevent a Sabercat touchdown.


The difference, however, was that the Trojans didn’t completely kill themselves with mistakes, and they redeemed themselves on just enough of them to present themselves as poised.  Case in point:  with 36 seconds left in the third quarter, Finley fired a 26-yard strike to Carl Westlund on the post pattern, but it was called back because of a holding call; the very next play, same quarterback, same receiver, same pattern, better result, a touchdown without penalty.


Even with the David vs. Goliath scenario playing itself out, and with Saguaro leading by a mere 8-7 score at the half, I felt Saguaro was going to win.  They have their huge offensive line (the five starters average 264 pounds), they have great runners in Rubenzer, Robinson, and Gena Adams (all of whom were named in the Arizona Republic’s preseason lists for top seniors and juniors), all they had to do was wear down the undersized Trojan defense, and they’d pull away in the fourth quarter.  Needless to say, I was shocked, as was most everyone else, that Finley was able to tack on two more touchdowns in the third quarter and go up 22-8.


Saguaro made their move in the fourth quarter, you knew it was coming, there’s a reason why Saguaro’s the defending champion.  Rubenzer scored three of his touchdowns in the final frame; after a 1-yard and 29-yard pair of scores and a 38-yard strike to Adams with 1:12 left in the game, the Cats were up, 29-25.  It was a terrific comeback, and had the game ended that way, it would have been memorable in and of itself. 


How many times, though, have you watched a team go ahead in this manner and said to yourself, there’s too much time on the clock, the other QB is too good, this game ain’t over yet?


After the ensuing kickoff and return brought the ball to the Trojan 40, Finley went to work, but despite missing receivers, the ball moved down the field methodically, thanks to a defensive holding call and a pass interference by the Sabercat secondary.  He used the clock well, remaining calm, using his timeouts wisely, not making the big mistake (his tipped interception could have ended the game were it not for the interference call), but if you watched the drive for the sake of watching good football instead of with a rooting interest, you realized it was more the Cats screwing it up than it was the Trojans being on their A-game.  Give Finley and the Trojans credit for taking advantage of the plethora of Sabercat mistakes, often times that’s how you win a football game, by making the opponent pay for their mistakes while making sure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot.


Even with all this, with just one second left, there was time for one more breathless moment, as Saguaro damn near pulled it off on the following kickoff.  Playing the lateral game and keeping the ball mainly in Rubenzer’s and Robinson’s hands, they worked the ball inside the Trojan 10 before they were finally tackled.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, the Cats were caught holding, but that play seemed to sum up the game for them; impressive athleticism, but just a little short and a mistake churned into the mix.


I like how the stadium is set up at PVHS, the players and coaches have to push through the vacating crowd to get to the locker room, which is great after an emotional win like this, you get to see players crying in jubilation and hugging their buddies.  I patted one coach on the back and said Good Game and got acknowledgement, I heard another coach tell school journalists “It is the biggest upset in the history of the state!”  While I’m sure I can think of several that are bigger (Desert Vista’s upset of Hamilton in the D-1 title game last year instantly springs to mind), let the coach go overboard, it was a damn big upset.


This is why they play the game, folks.  Virtually everyone out there, including me, put Saguaro as the preseason #1, they were the defending champs and loaded for another playoff run, they had collegiate-level talent all over the field, and they were facing an opponent they annihilated this time last year.  Even after a tough first half, I felt Saguaro would win by attrition if necessary.  Give a lot of credit to the Trojan defense, they kept the potent Sabercat offense in check for three quarters and gave their offense the chance they needed to pull off the miracle.  On paper, Saguaro should have won.  Most everyone out there, including me as well, had picked Paradise Valley to be markedly improved over last year’s disappointing 4-6 record, #20 in the power rankings, and out of the playoffs (I picked them for #8 going into this year, Maxpreps had them #11), but didn’t give them a chance in hell to beat the Sabercats.  It’s proof that if you don’t turn the ball over, if you make fewer mistakes, and if you can slow the opponent down just enough, you can keep yourself in the game and, with a little luck, pull off a miracle.  That’s what happened tonight. 



08-02-2012 9:31:04 PM PST

The Flagstaff Sports Foundation is throwing their annual Hall of Fame Inductee Banquet at Little America this year, on August 13.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing this time last year, but now that I know about it, I’m enthusiastic to see this year’s recipients.  I know politics plays a bit in such an endeavor, which is why you have Bill Bidwell and Jerry Colangelo and now Larry Wilson in the Hall, money speaks volumes.  I don’t wish to downplay the Cardinals and Suns bringing their preseason camps to NAU, but when I think of a Hall, I think of players, teams, coaches, and OCCASIONALLY an administrator.


The two honorees of note where Flagcoco is concerned are James Dugan, the legendary Flagstaff Flyer, and Willard Reaves, the 1984 CFL Outstanding Player of the Year.  Both grew up in Flagstaff and went through the school systems, both have outstanding life lessons and stories for us.  I want to take this time to talk about what each of these men mean to me, a kid who grew up in Flag years down the road.


My mother knew James Dugan well, they graduated from Flag High together in 1964.  She talked joyfully about his physical exploits and used to open up her Kinlani yearbooks and show my brother and me who he was.  I didn’t learn until years later just how much of an impact he had on not just Flagstaff, but the nation.  Dugan was a four-letter man in several sports, and in an era where freshman could play varsity, he not only made the teams, but started and even excelled.  The Arizona Republic named him the ninth greatest athlete the state of Arizona ever produced, which ought to tell you something of his talents.  He went to Ohio State but never made it there; he either injured an ankle that never healed, or he blew it with poor grades, depending on which story you wish to believe.  New and a little cocky as a Buckeye, the great Woody Hayes wanted to show the young Dugan about greatness; he took him to meet Louis Armstrong and told Dugan, “Don’t ever talk to me about imagined greatness.  THIS is greatness.” 


Dugan, however, was a product of his time.  1963 was the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and racism was dying hard across the country, including Arizona.  Dugan was having a mammoth season on the basketball court, a season which included an earth-shattering shootout with the equally talented Isaac Bonds in Winslow (Final score:  Dugan 54, Bonds 48).  Being in a part of the country with very few African-Americans, Dugan was accustomed to racial epithets; one night in Prescott, though, the only way the Badgers could keep up with Dugan was to send their goons out to hack him and call him nigger all game long.  He protested to the referees, who told Dugan to lighten up, he was going to get his points anyway, just deal with it.  At some point, Dugan’s patience failed him, and after getting pushed, he coldcocked a player, apparently the wrong player, and pandemonium ensued.  It was such an ugly incident that everyone on the bus heading back to Flagstaff had to duck, the angry Prescott faithful were throwing rocks through the windows and shouting slurs.  The AIA suspended Dugan for the remainder of the season, and in every article I’ve read on the event (Dugan as a phenom and as a pariah made national news, featured in Ebony and Jet magazines), he in his heart of hearts wishes he could have taken it back.


Because Flagstaff was still a relatively small city when I was growing up, I got to know many of my Mom’s friends from her generation.  Leon Ganter, David Turner, Weldon Mickelson, among others were part of my life as coaches and teachers.  I never did get to meet Dugan, I heard mixed stories about him since Ohio State, that he became a dentist, that he lived in Long Beach for a while, but such information is beyond my knowledge.  I hope he makes it to Flagstaff for the Hall of Fame ceremony, even if it’s by way of a Daily Sun article, I’d love to hear of something he said and did, it would be the first time since I’ve been aware of him.


I did meet Willard Reaves once.  I was going to Coconino High in the mid-80’s, at about the time Reaves was at the height of his career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  He helped the Bombers win the Grey Cup in 1984 and, in the process, was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player.  If you were a jock in Flagstaff, you paid closer attention when you saw someone from NAU playing in the pros, whether it was Allen Clark with the Patriots or Pete Mandley with the Lions or Michael Haynes with the Falcons; the only reason to watch the CFL (when ESPN played CFL games) was Willard Reaves.  While I knew Reaves played for NAU and Coconino, he was sort of a mythical figure, you just don’t put it together that the same cat winning MVP awards as a pro was walking the same high school halls you were just a few years before.  He and Dugan were in the same class, someone people talked about, but until you actually saw them, they weren’t completely real.


It was Career Day in I think 1985 or '86, and Ms. Newell’s classroom was the busiest of the day, because that was the room Reaves camped out in.  I don’t remember anything he said that day, it was a quarter century ago, for crying out loud.  I do, however, remember his presence, his tall hulkiness, his clean appearance, his aura.  I was way too shy at the time to ask him anything, I was never a star on the team, we were both Coconino Panthers, that was about all we had in common.


That’s why I was impressed when I found him on Facebook, wrote to him, and he accepted my friend request.  I had just started at Facebook, it was just one of those things you do, put in a name and see what happens.  I’ve done it with a lot of people from Flagstaff, I think we all do it.  I know he’s a busy guy, he and his family still live in Canada, every so often I write to him, but I got the biggest thrill a couple of weeks ago when I posted a medley of his pictures, as a Panther, Lumberjack, Blue Bomber, and a Washington Redskin.  I got into a discussion about Ray Smith with Phil Cancik, a former NFL player who played with both Smith and Reaves on that great NAU team that won their first Big Sky Championship in 1978.  The discussion ended up over who was the best athlete ever to come out of Coconino, Smith or Reaves.  Reaves chimed in, out of the blue, and said to us all Smith was his inspiration and gave him the credit.


So no, I’ve never had a conversation with either men, I’ve never shaken their hands, but in my own way, I know them, and I’m elated they’re being honored by the Flagstaff Sports Foundation.  It’s an honor well-deserved and long-overdue, and I wish I could be there, not just representing Flagcoco, but as a kid who grew up in the Flagstaff they left behind.  I want to shake Dugan’s and tell him what he meant to my Mom and thus to me, I want to shake Reaves’s hand and thank him for making me proud to be a Coconino Panther.



07-04-2012 12:08:41 AM PST

How do I know Flagcoco is becoming a small something in the cyberuniverse, something not so insignificant anymore, something that might actually have merit for someone somewhere?

While 57 likes on the Facebook page is not impressive, it's more impressive than the 10 this time last month.  The 57 is more than any other similar page dedicated to either school's football teams, some of which haven't been visited in a year or two.  The 57 is maybe a third of everyone who has come to the page, liked a picture, posted a comment, gotten in an argument, or otherwise made an appearance.

While I still haven't made the necessary pilgrimage to Flagstaff, Flagcoco seems to have the blessing of both schools.  I had attempted to set up times to visit administrators from both schools, but transportation forced me to cool my jets, that damn hill going north from Black Canyon City almost claimed my car as yet another casualty.  The principals, athletic directors, and coaches all know Flagcoco's existence and mission, and they all seem eager to see it become something.

For the first time, I saw the rivalry take the form of chest-pounding on the FB page.  I re-posted the picture of the 1986 Panthers, to which I got a certain someone from Flag High referring to us as "kittens", the Coconino faithful (including me) reminding him we beat them pretty good that year, him reminding us of the FOUR STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS IN THE EIGHTIES, and then the reconciliations.  There should be a lot more of that sort of chest-pounding, smack-talking, attitude-adjusting bravado in the Flagcoco world, from every era, and in time, perhaps it will be so.

In posting a series of images of the great Willard Reaves, I got into an argument with a former NFL player who played with both Reaves and Ray Smith at NAU, over a detail concerning Smith's post-graduate life (I had quoted the Daily Sun's assertion that Smith had been drafted by the Oakland Raiders, apparently that is incorrect, I'm still seeking how incorrect it was).  I never made the mistake on this website, but I did cite the Daily Sun article in my comments on the FB page, upon which the argument commenced.  The player I argued with received my gratitude with a mention on my THANK YOU page, because that's the kind of guy I am, I want Flagcoco to kick ass, I'm not looking to be a dick or to make enemies.  The fact, however, that I can get into such arguments over such details with former NFL players tells me Flagcoco is becoming something.

My hope is to get 100 Likes by the time the '12 season starts in late August, 200 by Rivalry Game time, 6000 website hits, and hopefully, with a little luck, maybe a couple of articles in the Daily Sun.  We'll see.  The small things I'm doing now to gather interest, however, are slowly starting to bear fruit, and I hope to continue them. 




05-31-2012 6:38:01 PM PST

I took a few months off from Flagcoco, but now I'm back.  It's tough writing about high school football in April, but it's now almost June, summer practice isn't too far off, and it's time to get back in the swing of things.

Short of image donations, I've had to rely on the Internet and old microfilm for almost all the pictures on this site.  While most of the microfilm is unusable, some images barely make the grade and are used here.  Between them and the newer pictures from the Net, it gives the site a more historical feel.  Of course, I wish I had access to the original newspaper articles from where the microfilm images are derived, but in many cases it's twenty to thirty years on, I gotta work with what I have.

I am elated with what I have had to work with has not only been accepted by those with an eye on Flagcoco as a website and as a Facebook page, but appreciated.  I posted two pictures on Facebook, one for the Coconino crowd, one for Flag High, and both got immediate and enthusiastic responses.

The first pic was of Mr. Almquist.  Anyone who was at a Coconino pep rally during the earlier years of the rivalry needs no reminder of who he was and how vital he became to the Coconino half of the rivalry's culture.  You simply could not have had a Panthers rally without him.  Everyone still remembers the cheers he led, his loud but infectious drawl, I know this because he occasionally comes up in my Facebook circles.  A lot of East Siders liked that one and ended up liking Flagcoco as a result.

Then, yesterday, I posted an action pic of Ceaser Polk, from the 1991 game, in which he smoked the Panther D for 260 yards and six touchdowns.  It's a horrible pic I got from microfilm, but it's the only pic I could find of the man in action in the rivalry.  Just now I linked Polk's name to it, and suddenly I got all of Polk's Facebook friends coming over, sharing the pic, giving thanks to him, who is, I believe as I write this, battling wildfires up north with the Hotshots.

It's something I knew would happen.  It would be one thing to get the scores and the stats and to write articles as good as the originals written by professional journalists decades ago, but the real connection people would have with this site would be created with the images.  In large part, this site is for nostalgic purposes, and you're just not going to get a visceral reaction from people if they can't actually see what happened.  Without pictures, no matter how thorough the statistics, no matter how good the writing, it will be as dry as reading the newspaper obituaries.

Football, by its very nature, is a visual sport.  You can listen to baseball games on the radio, that's a sport where play-by-play becomes theater of the mind, and you can picture a fastball whizzing by the hitter or an outfielder dropping a routine fly ball.  Football, on the other hand, demands the visual component.  You cannot verbally describe a Lynn Swann acrobatic catch along the sidelines as he keeps his attention on the ball while tiptoeing to stay in bounds.  Attempts to tell a buddy who doesn't know who Earl Campbell was how he just pulverized linebackers fall short.  A Walter Payton run, a John Jefferson reception.  Try explaining to a new young Steelers not just how the hell Franco Harris caught the Immaculate Reception, but how it started the Steeler Dynasty of the 70's, without the images of Terry Bradshaw scrambling, Frenchy Fuqua getting drilled by Jack Tatum, of Harris grabbing the ball a mere inch above the turf at Three Rivers Stadium and running down the sidelines for the winning score, or of the entire city of Pittsburgh erupting, as if forty years of frustration were released with the immediacy of a volcano.  You need pictures if you're going to tell a football story.

It's not much for right now, this project is still in its infancy and may take years before it becomes a real fixture in Flagstaff culture as I hope it will be, but it took nearly three months for Flagcoco to get 11 likes on Facebook; with these pictures, it got up to 25 in three days.  Again, not a very big deal, but it tells me I'm onto something here. 


02-15-2012 11:05:54 PM PST

This is a work in progress, I keep having to remind myself this is going to take a good long while before it’s awesome.  I so want to announce, HEY, THIS IS FLAGCOCO, AND IT ROCKS, but there’s so many gaping holes to it, so many pieces to this jigsaw puzzle that are missing, that I hold back and keep holding back.


My goal has been all along to get a Facebook page for this website started in late March.  By that time, I will have (hopefully) made a pilgrimage to Flagstaff to visit with administrators from both schools, pending the weather and the insurance that my car will get me there.  There’s a lot I want to do for this, it’s going to take more than one trip, but the first will be enough to get the statistical research to an acceptable level.  I’ve completely exhausted the newspapers—thanks to the Arizona Daily Sun and the Arizona State Library—and have at least a little something for all 43 years of the rivalry.  The historian in me is picking up on given threads weaving through the tapestry, seeing the whole of it as not simply 43 games as self-defined entities, but how one era flows into another, how certain games of a certain time all have certain qualities. 


I posted one of the pictures I found on a Facebook page, “Coconino FBPictures”, just to see what would happen.  It’s from the 1983 game, the great Audie McKee stepping back to pass for the Panthers as the Eagle defense starts to encircle him; truly, it’s not a great picture, it was copied from microfilm and then scanned, so the quality is borderline garbage, but then again, it has a certain graininess to it, an olden quality.  It works when I remember the game was almost thirty years ago.  In ’83, if we counted back thirty years, we’d be in an era where face masks were plastic and optional, the NFL had a 12-game schedule, and Bear Bryant was just getting his feet wet at Texas A&M.  I wish I at least could access the actual paper it came from, it would have given a better picture for scanning than what I have, but I like it, and I hoped it would get some sort of response.


It did.  The kids who run the page are all with the Coconino Boosters, and apparently related to friends I had when I was growing up in Flagstaff, back when that picture of Audie McKee was still fresh.  The girl I was chatting with, Melissa, asked me if I wanted her to start talking it up.  I said yes, mostly happy to do it, but with a small reluctance, knowing this site isn’t up to snuff, knowing it already has some very good qualities about it and will have more as we go, but still wanting to keep it under raps until it’s more complete.


To this point, I’ve only told a couple of individuals about it, and until I at least make it to Flag sometime soon, I hope to keep it that way.  I am, however, starting to run out of preliminaries.  There’s only so much the microfilm gave me, only so many things I can do with it.  I’m not going to wait until I have all 43 games catalogued in depth and scores checked and double-checked and notarized, but I would at least like to appear as if I weren’t doing this half-assed.  I want to go to Flag High and Coconino with the large accordion file I have of notes, showing them I’ve done my homework and I know what I’m talking about.  I call myself a “rivalry historian” concerning this project, I want to appear as if I have earned that distinction before this all is cast to the winds and let come what may.


I hope you do come back in a month or two, because the picture will be fuller.  By the time summer practice for the ’12 season start up, I hope to have the research done, the game pages done, all the preliminaries done, and at that point, I can enjoy the fruits of my labor and play journalist/interviewer.  That’s when this whole thing will become fun.


I want to get it there so bad, but I don’t want to jump the gun, I don’t want to make the HEY PEOPLE, THIS IS FLAGCOCO call, only to have it suck.



12-15-2011 11:31:39 PM PST

This project is teaching me a valuable lesson concerning the Internet:  regardless of how powerful a tool it might be for communication and searches, it’s only as good as the information put on it.  That’s the impetus behind this website from the get-go, to create a website for the rivalry and post all the stats and pictures I can find on the subject, because, quite frankly, no one else has bothered to.


My wife watches Criminal Minds on Wednesday nights, and occasionally, when I have nothing better to do, I’ll sit and watch it with her.  One of the characters is the computer whiz, the cyberguru, with the ability to find archaic data deep in the darkest and most remote corners of the Web, nearly instantaneously.  That’s the dream of the Net, to have the answer to any riddle at the tip of your fingers, and a few clicks and keystrokes are all that separate you from solving your current dilemma; the reality, however, is much different.  Tonight’s episode consisted of the genius in question diving onto her computer, digging deep into the underground of Philadelphia boxing, pulling up names and life stories, seemingly on command.  At one point it occurred to me that it’s all in the name of television expedience, that the real painstaking research—even on the Web—is very time consuming and often fruitless.  I almost laughed at the ridiculousness of her efficiency.


She’s able to uncover the names of boxers living in squalor and volumes on their broken lives.  I’m damned if I can find a decent picture of the legendary David Winsley, let alone statistics concerning his time at Flag High in the mid-1980’s, when he became, at the time, the all-time leading rusher in Arizona prep history.


That’s because his greatness precedes the rise of the Internet by at least a decade, and no one bothered to document his abilities for the sake of posterity.  For those of you who don’t know Winsley, either because you’re too young or you weren’t in Flagstaff at the time, try to imagine Barry Sanders, but muscular.  The man stood five-foot-eight and was probably as wide across the chest as he was tall.  World class speed and the ability to move four directions at once made him impossible to catch, and if you did get your hands on him, he was so freaking strong that you could never pull him down alone.  Knee injuries when he played at Arizona State are why you never saw him in the NFL, but those of us who either played against him or watched him play will tell you what I just told you, that the man was a once-in-a-generation talent, possibly the hardest working athlete you’ll ever meet, and it’s a crying shame he didn’t make it big.


And if I can’t find hardly anything about Winsley, how much do you think I’ll find on Stan Gill, Caesar Polk, Phillip Miller, Corrin Johns, or any other player who took to the turf at the Skydome for the rivalry game?


It’s not discouraging me.  To this point, it’s only meant that I need to get off my duff and be a real god-damned historian and do some real god-damned research.  It’s meant getting in contact with people who are experts on the subject.  It’s meant spending hours in the library, sifting through microfilm, relishing what others might find tedious.  It’s meant following leads and being disappointed for the loss of time.  It’s all okay, so long as this is the only time I have to do it.  This is the hard part, tracking down information on forty-three games and the two schools participating, but once I have it, sort it, type it, and post it, it’s done and will never need to be done again, and I will be able to actually enjoy Flagcoco as a relevant entity instead of a history project.


This whole project began because I couldn’t just look up the rivalry on the Net.  All I originally wanted was a list of game results, and no single source could provide it, either online, in print, or in some dusty vault or closet somewhere.  For as big as the rivalry allegedly was, no one had bothered to just list the win-loss results and post it somewhere where people like me could find it.  That disappointed me, not because no one else did it, so I feel I have to do it once and for all, but because the game was such a big part of Flagstaff culture for so many years, someone should have done this long ago.  I don’t believe for a second I’m the only one who has ever requested this information, but apparently I’m the only one since the Internet went public to sit down, once and for all, and put all the research together to create a singular, comprehensive source for all things concerning the rivalry.


The Internet is only as good as the information you can find on it, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can either shrug and move onto something else, or you can put it there yourself.  I picked the latter.



12-07-2011 3:15:13 PM PST

Yes, I said it.  The BEST high school rivalry in Arizona.  Coconino and Flag High.


Of course, I said it with a degree of bias.  I grew up in Flagstaff in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, during the height of the rivalry, when the Panthers and Eagles were perpetually vying for division titles, jockeying for playoff position, and competing for state championships.  I graduated from Coconino High, having played on the 1986 varsity team that upset the heavily favored Eagles.  I also have many friends and family members who were students and teachers at Flag High, from the 1940’s to today.  Whenever the subject of Arizona high school football is brought up, my rooting interests always start north of Cordes Junction, and they get stronger the closer we get to the Peaks.


I also watched several of the Flag High-Coconino games when I was growing up, and even now, 25 years since the last time I watched and/or participated, I’m in awe of what the game was, is, and hopefully will always be.  I remember 1978, having to wait outside the Skydome for 45 minutes as a kid because my dad didn’t get tickets ahead of time, so we ended up missing the entire first quarter waiting in line… FOR A HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME.  I remember the Dome (with a permanent seating capacity of 15,000 in a city of, at the time, 30,000) being packed to the rafters to watch local heroes like Stan Gill, Audie McKee, David Winsley, Phillip Miller, and dozens more play their guts out in the early 1980's, not just to win a game and position themselves for the postseason, but to beat up their archrival.  I remember a lot of close, defensive battles, often decided in the final minutes of the game, the final minutes of the regular season, all coming down to a win-or lose kick (as in 1985, when the Panthers held the legendary Winsley in check and lost on Dawson Gofourth’s last-minute field goal) or an otherworldly play coming out of the blue (as in this last game, 2011, when Kaine Kennedy scooped up a fumble with just over a minute on the clock and raced forty yards to set up the go-ahead touchdown with eleven seconds left, lifting the beleaguered Eagles past the Panthers).


This is a game that lends itself to spirited play, the exaltation of heroism and the woes of loss.  For one night out of the year, the city of Flagstaff shuts down, and all eyes are on the turf in the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome.  It’s part of the culture; after you tell someone you’re from Flagstaff, the first question is always, which high school, and from your reply, you’re determined to be friend or foe.  It’s a friendly rivalry, everyone at Flag High knows everyone at Coconino and vice versa, and they root for each other to have great seasons and to go far in the playoffs, but for that one night a year, regardless of record, all bets are off.  There’s no such thing as an underdog in this game, it’s ridiculous how many times the perceived underdog has played spoiler in this game; our 1986 team had a string of tough injuries and lost several close games, and though we missed out on the playoffs, we held a deep, satisfying joy in killing the Eagles’ playoff hopes, and that made the season memorable.


This is more than your basic crosstown rivalry.  Divisions and state titles have swung on the results of this game.  After 43 years, Flag High leads the series 22-21; many of those games were low-scoring, defensive struggles, decided by a touchdown or less.  From the very start, when the Panthers and Eagles squared off for the first time in old Lumberjack Stadium in 1969, the intensity of the rivalry was set in stone, as the upstart Panthers, starting only their second season of varsity ball, beat the venerable Eagles 12-7; the very next year, the Panthers held a 13-0 lead going into the waning minutes of the game, when the Eagles made an improbable rally to close the lead to 13-12, only to miss a makeable field goal to win the game as the final gun sounded.


The rivalry simply got better and better with every such game.  Fierce and competitive, from the 60's to today.


Yes, there have been blowouts, and for a time, a third high school—Sinagua—diluted the potency of the rivalry, but nothing can tarnish the history Coconino and Flag High share.  Even in these last few years, with subpar records and traditions in a rebuilding phase, the rivalry itself transcends the schools.  They could be both 9-0 or 0-9 going into the game, and it will still be a war, intense and gripping.  The so-called favorite never has the right to overlook the other, no matter what the records are.  This rivalry was declared dead and reborn and dead again, in the papers and in the collective Flagstaff mind, but every once in a while, you get a classic, like the 2011 game, and you’re reminded that any past declarations of death were premature and erroneous, that this game is as vital as it’s always been, and so long as they play high school football in Northern Arizona, this game will have value.


So yes, I make the argument that the Coconino-Flag High rivalry is the best high school rivalry in Arizona, and this website is my desire to enshrine it, to give it the mantle it deserves, something better than other websites dedicated to Arizona high school football that are either overwhelmed by trying to be all-inclusive (as you’ll find at the AIA or MaxPreps websites) or uninspired and only offer a schedule and a couple of pictures (as is virtually every team website in America)  The rivalry deserves better, and it’s my hope that, with a little help from my friends, we can create a site worthy of the subject matter, something not just alumni and Flagstaff’s old farts will visit once in a while, but anyone who appreciates high school football at its best can find some substance.


You’re more than welcome to challenge me in my assessment.  This website is my argument.  If you’re from Phoenix and believe the Brophy-St. Mary’s rivalry is superior, or you’re from the White Mountains area and think the Blue Ridge-Show Low game is better, I invite you to tell me why.  I also encourage you to put together a website like this, with pictures and statistics and remembrances, and make your case.  It’s never enough to just try to tear down someone else’s argument, you owe it to everyone to build up something of your own.


Until then, I stand by what I said, that this website is in celebration of the BEST HIGH SCHOOL RIVALRY IN ARIZONA:  COCONINO vs. FLAG HIGH.



Russell Woods, Creator of Flagcoco.com



12-07-2011 2:50:05 PM MST

Flagcoco.com is now up and running, but hardly ready to impress the cyberuniverse.  Then again, it doesn’t matter this very minute; the Arizona prep football season just ended two weeks ago (six weeks ago for the Panthers and the Eagles), and it’s another eight months before summer practices for the 2012 season begin.  We have plenty of time to make this website worth visiting.  The current voids in statistics, images, and text will be filled, the people needing to be talked to about this project will be talked to, and the basic approach going into next season will be developed, tweaked, and set into motion.


Even though it’s not near completion, Flagcoco is online because it will become a collaborative effort.  It will require feedback from several key sources, and those sources need to be able to watch this site develop over the coming months.  Administrators from both schools have been contacted concerning this endeavor, and they have replied positively and will assist in filling in the holes.  They need to know where those holes are, and this is the best way to show them.  The world will not even know this half-baked idea is on the Net until July.  Though this is put out there for everyone to see, it’s still our little secret, out in the open yet undiscovered.


For those who will be helping us in developing this site, your efforts will (hopefully) be rewarded when you come back when football fever hits in August and September, and you see a wealth of stats, articles worth reading, players and coaches from the past adding their two cents, and a plethora of pictures from back in the day, whether that day was 2009 or 1999 or 1969.  Gratitude will be shown by taking your contributions and morphing them into something intelligent, respectful, compelling, and relevant. 



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