Third consecutive championship ‘most fulfilling’ for Chaparral
12:20 am, Sun Nov 27, 2011.
By Mark Heller, Tribune
Defensive lineman Jarvis Lewis shook the last opponent’s hand in line, and immediately ran around Sun Devil Stadium with his arms out wide like an airplane’s wings.
The hollering and celebration had gone on for several minutes when an injured Brian Zurek, on one foot after being injured late in the Division II state championship, hopped over to the celebration gathering with help from two teammates.
Still think winning a state championship is some afterthought at Chaparral?
Maybe, but don’t tell the Firebirds after they won a third consecutive state title on Saturday night with a 37-14 victory against Vail Cienega.
That loss to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in the Barry Sollenberger Classic to begin the season in late August is long-forgotten, and the journey since then is the reason why.
Back then, the Firebirds had a new defense because of graduation, a new defensive coordinator after Conrad Hamilton left for a head coaching job, one lineman (Dylan Cozens) who’d never played football before, another lineman (Lewis) who was still waiting to learn whether he’d be eligible this season after transferring from Glendale Raymond Kellis, and a starting running back (Lucas Petrullo) who’d miss the next two months with a foot injury.
This was why Lewis was so elated to play here, and why Petrullo worked tirelessly to return from his injury. And why Davonte Neal, easily the game’s most valuable player, moved from Laveen Cesar Chavez two years ago.
“At that time it finally hit me,” Lewis said of his championship celebration. “This is the real deal. It’s been a long ride.”
The Firebirds plan to move up to Division I in two years, but that didn’t appear to make the emotions of Saturday’s game any more diminutive, even when it was 0-0 after one quarter and 14-7 at halftime.
Neal scored those 14 points in the second quarter for the Firebirds (14-1) and he rolled on in the third quarter with a 42-yard run around the right side and tip-toe act to stay in bounds along the sidelines.
Neal was Chaparral’s best offense when it mattered for three quarters. His 355 total yards on offense (220 yards and two touchdowns rushing, 107 yards receiving, 28 yards in returns) was double what Cienega had as a team (174 yards).
Chaparral bottled up standout running back Manny Vera (28 yards on 16 carries) and, unlike the Firebirds, had no alternatives on offense.
“At some point the kids make plays,” Cienega coach Nemer Hessey said. “…We couldn’t hold up long enough.”
Through injuries, AIA eligibility hearings and extreme internal and external pressures, Chaparral did.
“This is the probably the most fulfilling,” Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle said of the three championships. “Probably because it was the most adversity we faced. I know people think it’s easy, until you’re on this side of the coin.”
Chaparral quarterback Connor Brewer threw for 157 yards and two touchdowns in his final high school game before jetting to the University of Texas next fall. He finished as the Arizona’s all-time career leader in touchdown passes (101) and finished high school with a 12-0 record in playoff games.
“I don’t know how you put into words what those guys have done,” Ragle said. “Hollywood couldn’t make a movie as good as Connor has been.”
The barrage of punts by both teams in the first half (Chaparral even tried a fake punt that didn’t work) and the halftime score admittedly made a few Chaparral players nervous.
But they remembered that they led against Bishop Gorman, trailed Tucson Salpointe and trailed in the fourth quarter against Peoria Centennial in last week’s semifinal.
Neal took over in the second half with his second touchdown run and a 49-yard run on an end-around that set up Dylan Audsley’s 24-yard field goal.
Brewer ran in another score from seven yards out and it was 31-7 by the fourth quarter. Fittingly, Chaparral’s final touchdown was a pass by Brewer.
“You’d never think your career is going to be like this,” Brewer said. “It’s been hard, fun and definitely something that I’ll never forget.”
Similar to last season, the Firebirds will lose a lot of firepower on both sides to graduation (Brewer, Neal, Petrullo, Lewis, Cody Ippolito, Jordan Bronowitz, Zach Skeen etc.), but not without leaving a dynasty behind them.
“This is where we wanted to be, since camp (in August) and even before,” Lewis said. “I guess you could say this is icing on the cake. It’s really sweet.”