Yellow Fever

November 2, 2007

NAU Walkup Skydome

 

LEADING IN:  2007 was one of weirdest years for Flagstaff prep football.  The Mustangs, Eagles, and Panthers each had their own strange journeys.

For the first time since the early 1980’s, Craig Holland was not on the sidelines for Flag High.  In his place was Erik Affholter, the former All-American wide receiver from USC with a brief stint in the NFL.  He came into the job full of confidence. “It's not just football to me. Football is the vehicle that I was given to work with these young men,” he said to Annie Turner of the Arizona Daily Sun; “One thing we will do is work hard, work hard academically, that is the first priority to get every kid on the team in an academic position to go on to college if they want to.”

That confidence eroded quickly.  By midseason Affholter was wondering if his dream job was turning into a nightmare.  His players weren’t buying into his style of coaching, and he felt he wasn’t getting a break with the people at Flag High, many of whom had known Holland for years:  “I got a lot of negativity from the second I walked on campus from a lot of old coaches, trainers and (some) administration… A lot of those people were probably friends of Craig, so that was the way it was going to be, regardless.”  He also went into the job without an understanding of the city rivalries, particularly what he called “deep animosity” between the Eagles and the Mustangs: 

My very first day on Flagstaff High's campus [spring of 2007] I went to a basketball game between Sinagua and Flag High… The Sinagua kids chanted, “We've got money and you don't” because they lost. It ended up in a fight and the police were on campus the next day.  I didn't expect that. I expected a good, competitive rivalry, but it seems to be a little tense here — in every sport.

That animosity carried into the football season.  Affholter’s Eagles were struggling with a 2-3 mark when they played the Mustangs in the Dome.  Flag High led, 14-7, as the final seconds ticked down.  The Eagles had the ball on the Sinagua 1.  The Eagles called a timeout, ran a play, and scored.  Sinagua head coach Paul Wolf refused to let his Mustangs shake the Eagles’ hands after the game and accused them of unnecessarily running up the score.  Affholter insisted he did not call the timeout or the play, but since he’s the head coach, the responsibility falls on him.  It indeed fell on him in more ways than one; aside from angering a crosstown rival, Affholter received anonymous phone calls, his car was vandalized, and one of his children was threatened.  Already thinking about quitting, this incident convinced him of it; he guided the Eagles to a 56-20 loss to Mingus, and just before their showdown with Bradshaw Mountain, he resigned.  Assistant Pat Harlow was named interim coach for the remainder of the season.

Though Sinagua was competitive against Flag High, they struggled through most of the season.  They kicked off the year with a 55-0 loss to Apache Junction.  By the time of their bye week in Week Five, they had been outscored 169-13.  After the week off they were more competitive, losing to Sunnyslope 27-25 and staying with Flag High till the final minute of that game before beating Coconino, 26-0.  They then got crushed by Mingus, 61-0, and Bradshaw Mountain, 35-7, before losing a heartbreaker to Page in the finale, 14-13.  They finished 1-9.

But for as bad as things were at Flag High and Sinagua, they were worse at Coconino.  After ending 2006 with four straight losses, their streak continued right on through ’07.  They weren’t competitive in any of their games, giving up sixty-plus points three times and scoring a whopping 34 points through the first nine games.  While both Sinagua and Coconino were experiencing drops in student populations and thus had fewer players for which to field a team, Panthers head coach Tadd Ragan still held out hope for the finale against Flag High; “It would definitely be a great way to end a very tough season and set up things for next year.”  The ’07 Panthers were young but gaining experience that would hopefully pay off in ’08, but a win here would certainly jumpstart the process.

To everyone’s surprise, the Eagles, with a 4-5 record, headed into the Rivalry Game ranked #17 in Class 4A-II.  That meant, despite both teams going in with losing records, there was plenty on the line.  For Flag High, the possibility of sneaking into the playoffs gave them plenty of incentive to play their best against their old foe; for Coconino, avoiding the first winless season in their proud history was motivation enough, but to do so against their archrival and spoil their playoff dreams would be icing on the cake.

THE GAME:  Hopes ran high for the East Siders early in the game as the Panthers got on the board first, thanks to a 30-yard field goal from Chris Bennett.  Their good luck, however, ran out soon after that; two possessions later, on fourth down and with the Panthers in punt formation, the snap sailed over Bennett’s head, and the Eagles recovered and set up shop on the Coconino 21.  Three plays later, Eagle runningback Robert Cottrell punched it in from six yard out, and the deluge began.

The score was 7-3 after the first quarter, but after their initial success, the Panthers simply could not move the ball on Flag High.  They gained 180 yards in total offense and lost the ball twice on fumbles.  Conversely, once the Eagles got their offense revved up, the Panthers couldn’t slow them down.  Flag High collected a balanced 405 yards; while Cottrell was scorching the Panthers on the ground to the tune of 166 yards and a TD, QB Ryan Hill was lighting them up through the air with 238 yards and three scoring throws.  After Hill connected with Jesse Tate for a 60-yard score, it was Jordan Brandel who put the final nail in the coffin; Coconino’s Casey Sifling completed a pass, and as the receiver tried pitching it on a hook-and-lateral, Brandel snagged it and raced 45 yards to complete the night’s scoring.  

Flagstaff 38, Coconino 3

AT THE END OF THE DAY:  After the win, the Eagles crossed their fingers and prayed to eke into the playoffs.  Their prayers were answered, as the AIA announced their brackets with Flag High seeded #16, scheduled to again take on top-seeded Mingus.  While the Eagles were able to move the ball on the Marauders, mistakes cost them dearly, and just like earlier in the season, they lost, 42-20.  Mingus remained undefeated and plowed through the rest of the playoffs, only to lose to Notre Dame in the championship game, 49-32.  The interim tag was taken off of Harlow as he was slated to coach the Eagles in 2008.

As for the Panthers, they suffered through their first winless season in four decades of playing varsity football and would enter ’08 with a 14-game losing streak.  Things could only get better from here.

SCORING SUMMARY

 

1

2

3

4

F

Coconino

3

0

0

0

3

Flagstaff

7

11

20

0

38

 

CHS:  Bennett 30 FG

FHS:  Cottrell 6 run (Brandel PAT)

FHS:  Brandel 38 FG

FHS:  Winiecki 14 pass from Hill (2-point conversion)

FHS:  Brandel 37 pass from Hill (Brandel PAT)

FHS:  Tate 60 pass from Hill (Brandel PAT)

FHS:  Brandel 45 interception return (kick failed)

TEAM TOTALS

Flagstaff

 

Coconino

38

Score

3

16

First Downs

8

26-167

Rushing (Carries-Yards)

37-78

30-16-1

Passing (Att-Comp-Int)

11-4-0

238

Passing Yards

102

405

Total Offense

180

1-0

Fumbles-Lost

4-2

1

Turnovers

2

19-190

Penalties-Yards

6-35

 

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

RUSHING

FLAGSTAFF

          Cottrell:  13 rushes, 166 yards, 1 TD; rest of team:  13 rushes, 1 yard

COCONINO

          Bennett:  8 rushes, 38 yards; Joyce:  7 rushes, 12 yards; Hector:  5 rushes, 19 yards; Boone:  5 rushes, 16 yards; Hull:  4 rushes, 12 yards; Cordova:  3 rushes, 9 yards; Sifling:  3 rushes, -20 yards; Sanchez:  1 rush, -1 yards         

RECEIVING

FLAGSTAFF

          Brandel:  7 rec, 108 yards, 1 TD; Winiecki:  1 TD; Tate:  1 TD

COCONINO

          Bennett:  1 rec, 44 yards; Isbell:  1 rec, 33 yards

PASSING

FLAGSTAFF

          Hill:  29 att, 15 comp, 238 yards, 3 TD, 1 int

COCONINO

          Sifling:  6 att, 4 comp, 102 yards

 

Original story by Tim Kagan of the Arizona Daily Sun; November 3, 2007

Statistics Compiled via Maxpreps and the Arizona Daily Sun

Text for Flagcoco by Russell Woods; June 23, 2014

Last Updated:  June 24, 2014





©