October 15, 2004
Former Mountain View and current Gilbert coach Jesse Parker oversaw a relentless string of powerhouse teams at Mountain View from 1976-1994. Four of them (1978, 1983, 1986 and 1993) won state titles, but only one emerged an undefeated champ.
‘‘The ’83 and ’93 teams were both very good,’’ Parker said. ‘‘From the results I’d have to say the ’83 team was the best. They didn’t lose a game.’’
Arcadia, struggling for success in recent years, exploded on the scene in 1959 and secured a state title just one year later, but it was the one-loss 1962 team that may have been its best.
‘‘The 1962 team had a great backfield and ended the season nationally ranked,’’ AIA sports information director and prep football historian Barry Sollenbeger said. ‘‘They crushed the No. 1 team (Tucson High) in the championship game.’’
Then there was Tempe High’s 1996 squad. Frustrated by a title-game shortfall in 1995, the Buffaloes ran off a 14-0 title season that culminated with an overtime victory in the championship game. The Buffs did so with one of the top pass-and-catch combos in history (Todd Mortensen to Justin Taplin).
Those are just three of the 40 East Valley high school teams that have won football championships since sanctioned playoffs began in 1959.
Many of these teams never experienced the agony of defeat. Some, on paper, looked extraordinary. Some had seemingly no star players, but when 12 or 13 or 14 games were in the books, they were kings of their conference.
Varsity Xtra takes a look at the top teams since 1950 — a dandy dozen — enlisting the advice of coaches and historians.
Fans who have seen a little or a lot of East Valley football have their own opinions, but here are the teams we deemed remarkable for a variety of reasons. In the end, these got the nod because they struck ultimate pay dirt — a state title.
Mesa High 9-0-1 (1950)
This team stands apart from the other 10 Mesa High teams that claimed state titles primarily because of the notoriety of its exploits. One of six Mutt Ford-coached title teams at Mesa (the first five were "mythical" since no sanctioned playoff format existed at the time) the Jackrabbits were led by All-American guard Glenn Bowers, the most notable of a terrific offensive line that paved the way for running backs Don Beasley, Willie Harris and fullback Jay Smith. Mesa was at its best the final third of the season pummeling Yuma, Tucson, Covina, Calif., and Douglas. Once it beat Glendale High to lock up the mythical title, it played one more game and settled for a 14-14 tie with Phoenix St. Mary’s, depriving it of a perfect season.
Arcadia 10-1 (1962)
The early days of Titans football was arguably their best. This team boasted six seniors who earned major college scholarships, including the dynamic backfield combination of quarterback John Propstra, halfbacks Pat McGinty and Everett Rollins and fullback Dana Woudenberg. In the championship game, coach Bob Hendricks’ Titans drubbed top-ranked Tucson High, 40-7. Tucson entered the game averaging 35 points and 400 yards per game. A 12-8 loss to Yuma in the final regularseason game was the only blight on the Titans’ record. Arcadia finished with a No. 8 ranking in a national poll.
Westwood 12-0 (1964)
In only its second season playing football, the Warriors won a state title. While other Warriors’ teams of the decade may have had better-known talent, none were able to make it through to a title. In a defensive struggle at Sun Devil Stadium that season, Westwood edged Phoenix Camelback, 10-7, on a field goal by Rudy Santa Cruz to win the title. This Warrior team, coached by Mutt Ford, had six all-state players led by two-way all-stater Richard Griffin.
McClintock 14-0 (1977)
McClintock became a football factor in the late 1960s. But it wasn’t until the ’77 season under coach Karl Kiefer that the Chargers notched a state title. The three years prior the Chargers were 27-4, but never reached the title game. In the championship year, they dispatched Casa Grande, Phoenix St. Mary’s and Phoenix Maryvale before tangling with Phoenix Washington for all the marbles. The quarterback matchup that night was Rick Neuheisel for McClintock and Sun Devil-to-be Mike Pagel of Washington. McClintock used a fourth-quarter touchdown run by fullback Todd Greer to turn the tide in a 14-9 triumph. The Chargers’ pass rush got much of the credit for the win, effectively neutralizing Pagel and the Rams’ air attack. This title was the first for a Tempe school since playoffs began in 1959.
Mountain View 14-0 (1983)
This was the first of four Toro teams to win a state title with a perfect record. As per tradition, it contained few superstars and only two players that went on to Division I careers. The most notable was running back Paul Kasprzyk, who went on to a modest career at the University of Arizona. Kasprzyk rushed for nearly half of the Toros’ 3,603 yards. The team, coached by Jesse Parker, outscored its opponents 438-44. The Toros actually trailed McClintock, 14-13, early in the second half of the title game. But a 21-0 advantage in the second half assured it the best record in school history to that point.
Dobson 12-2 (1987)
Dobson never won a playoff game before ’87 in its relatively short existence. The Mustangs enjoyed their first postseason win so much (Tucson Santa Rita was the victim) they gathered in three more (Phoenix Moon Valley, Phoenix Brophy and crosstown rival Mountain View). The Mountain View game was for the championship and the first ever all-Mesa final.
Coach Mike Clark’s Mustangs boasted an awesome ground game that afternoon led by tailbacks Josh Arnold and T.C. Wright and fullback Greg Boland. Arnold went on to a stellar career at Brigham Young, and Wright landed at San Diego State. Dobson amassed more than 5,000 yards of offense that season, 4,000 of it on the ground, with a top-notch offensive line leading the way.
Westwood 13-1 (1988)
Talk about a team that lacked star power. The Warriors were a smallish team with their starting defensive ends Chris Gump and Zane Dickey, standing between 5-foot-9 and 5-11, respectively, and weighing no more than 170 pounds. The Warriors’ defense was tough and their offense efficient enough to mow through their schedule and land Westwood its second ever state title. The Warriors’ only loss that season was a 7-6 setback to Dobson, the 5A champs the year before. Westwood had to beat Dobson in the state semifinals to reach the title game and avenged the loss in a huge way — 35-0. They dominated Mountain View, 28-7, in the championship game.
Saguaro 13-1 (1995)
The only team in school history to win a state title. The Sabercats were led by running back/safety Mike Brown, who would go on to star at Nebraska and is currently a starting safety with the Chicago Bears. The only game Saguaro lost that season (26-23 to Peoria Centennial) came with Brown sidelined by injury (one of two games Brown missed). Brown rushed for 2,023 yards and scored 35 touchdowns. Saguaro, coached by Tim Beck, crushed Glendale Ironwood, 42-7, in the title game.
Tempe 14-0 (1996)
This edition of the Buffaloes was the best in school history in many ways. Coach Tim McBurney’s squad was unbeaten and won more games than any Tempe High team en route to the 4A state title. The Buffaloes were known most for the potent pass-catch duo of Todd Mortensen and Justin Taplin, both of whom were Division I signees (Brigham Young and ASU, respectively). Tempe didn’t win the 4A title that year without a battle. The Mortensento-Taplin combo clicked for the game-winning score in a 20-17 victory over Glendale Ironwood. Mortensen threw three TD passes in the championship game. The Buffaloes also had a 1,348-yard rusher in James Shaw.
Desert Vista 14-0 (1998)
The second year of varsity football at Desert Vista was the first with a senior class, and it excelled. The Jim Rattaycoached Thunder battled through the tough 5A Central Region with narrow wins over Marcos de Niza and Corona del Sol and navigated a rugged month of playoffs to capture the state title. Quarterback John Rattay, a junior that season who would garner a scholarship to Tennessee, led the Thunder through the air while University of Arizona-bound Bobby Wade did damage on the ground and as a big-play receiver for the Thunder. Wade scored 41 touchdowns during the year — many during a postseason in which the Thunder edged Paradise Valley in overtime, beat Horizon by 10 , rallied past Kingman by four in the semifinals and did the same vs. Phoenix Brophy in the title game, a thrilling 38-31 decision.
Chaparral 14-0 (1999)
This was the trend-setting squad for coach Ron Estabrook’s Firebirds, who have been a 4A power in the sport for nearly a decade now. It was Chaparral’s first trip to a football title game — 4A or otherwise — and the Firebirds were fabulous all season. No opponent in the regular season came closer than three touchdowns to beating Chaparral. Its closest game prior to the title game was a first-round 13-3 win over Phoenix Thunderbird. That toughened the Firebirds up for the rest of postseason. They dominated the next three opponents, including Tucson Sahuaro by a 27-10 count in the title game. Chaparral had eight players on that squad that have gone on to play Division I or Division I-AA ball.
Mountain View 14-0 (2002)
The most recent Toro team to capture a 5A title, this one accomplished it in devastating fashion. Coach Tom Joseph’s team scored a 5A record 602 points and gave up just 34 points (also a 5A record). They trailed only once all season (3-0 to Mesa for a total of 10 minutes and 29 seconds in the first half). They recorded eight shutouts and didn’t give up a touchdown to 10 of 14 opponents. In the championship game they passed for 265 yards and rushed for 267. It was the junior season for standout quarterback Max Hall, now at ASU.
Mesa 11-0 (1963): Mutt Ford exits Mesa to take over at Westwood. The Jackrabbits go on and post their first perfect record ever, blanking Tucson Rincon in the title game.
Gilbert 11-0 (1973): The first of two 3A titles under Dan Dunn, current head coach at Mesa Community College and former Red Mountain assistant.
Coronado 13-0 (1976): Star quarterback Greg Brady led the Dons to the only football title in school history.
McClintock 12-2 (1980): A championship year, the school’s second title under Karl Kiefer, despite losses to rivals Tempe and Mountain View.
McClintock 12-1 (1984):
The Chargers bowed out in the semis with the likes of Cleveland Colter Jr., Art Greathouse and Kent Kiefer.
McClintock 13-2 (1989):
Lost to 4A co-champion Tempe, but took care of 5A foes, including Westwood twice for title.
Mesa 12-1-1 (1990): Mesa’s first title in 27 years, the longest drought between titles in school history.
Mesa 13-1 (1992): The Jackrabbits of Mikel Moreno, Robert Holcombe and Steve McKane fame gave up 11 points in four postseason games.
Mountain View 13-1 (1993):
Avenged ’92 title loss to Mesa, team it didn’t play in regular season due to ’92 title-game fight.
Horizon 11-3 (1994): Ten consecutive wins to close season and winning TD of title game scored in final 20 seconds produced school’s first and only title under coach Doug Shaffer.
Mountain View 14-0 (1996):
Bernie Busken’s first of three title teams and the team that started a 40-game winning streak.
Mountain View 14-0 (1997):
Swan song of Todd Heap-Tait Gunning era ended with come-frombehind win late vs. Amphitheater.
Mountain View 13-1 (1999):
Desert Vista swamped Toros early that year. Nobody else did vs. John Beck and Co.
Red Mountain 12-2 (2000):
Beat Mountain View for the first time ever (twice) opening door for Mountain Lions’ first championship.
Chaparral 14-0 (2000):
Not quite as talented as ’99 team, but still as good record-wise.