Lessons learned? Let’s find out.
Hoping to be better for the wear, the Seton Catholic football team knows a Division IV state championship must go through the White Mountains, where Lakeside Blue Ridge and Show Low reside.
This year, it could require two tussles if the Sentinels want to capture the elusive championship.
But first thing’s first: A semifinals date with Show Low on Saturday afternoon, and with it comes a history lesson. The 2011 Sentinels reached this point — in easier fashion than this year’s playoff drive — until the semifinals.
Unaccustomed to the intensity and physicality the White Mountain schools bring (Blue Ridge, Show Low and Snowflake are the other three remaining schools), the result was a touchdown tutorial by Blue Ridge in a 45-14 loss to the eventual state champions.
Granted, it’s not Blue Ridge, but Seton knows Show Low — which lost to Blue Ridge in last year’s title game and by 10 points for its only loss this season — is every bit as good. A difficult game last week in the quarterfinal victory against Cottonwood Mingus in which the Sentinels handled ample amounts of adversity, combined with significant roster returns from last year’s loss, makes Seton confident it can handle what Northern Arizona schools will bring.
“The final four is like a White Mountain block party and we’re the outsiders, but I think we belong,” Seton coach Rex Bowser said. “I think this team knows a lot about what it takes at this level than. There’s a lot of carry-over. It’s been a topic of conversation off-and-on all season, we’d bring up the Blue Ridge game.”
Besides being better prepared, the Sentinels believe they’re a tougher team mentally and better defensively than 2011. All points were re-emphasized in last week’s 28-21 comeback win over Mingus.
The Sentinels stuffed Mingus’ ground game but suffered lapses in the secondary, had no running game themselves against Mingus’ defense, eventually abandoned it, and trailed by a touchdown with six minutes left to play before they reeled off 14 points down the stretch to pull out the win. It was aided by a big day from quarterback Ryan Bresnahan, who came off the bench to throw four touchdown passes after Bowser decided to stick with him over David Gesicki on “just a gut feeling, not intellectual decision. Just the gut said let’s stay with him.”
Though not real big in size, Show Low’s offense figures to be a little more diverse and tougher to stop. Junior Colby Maxwell has 21 touchdown passes and three interceptions, junior Dallin Crandall surpassed 1,000 yards on the season last week, and the Cougars will spread carries to a few kids.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen an O-line that quick how they get out and pull and get off the ball,” Bowser said of Show Low. “It’s like a track team.”
This is where that defense comes into play. The Sentinels struggled at times with Mingus’ passing game in linebackers and defensive backs being in the wrong place, but the Sentinels have 23 interceptions this season, six of which were returned for touchdowns and two others were called back on penalties.
Numbers are nice, but these semifinals are about winning a slugfest, not stats.
“I was really pleased how they were able to handle themselves,” Bowser said. “Our kids are aware they can do that. They’ve done it.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.