Despite injuries, Vikings continue march to state championships

Viking Corey Cooper brings down Wildcat Latrell Kinlicheenie as Dorian Ayala and Luis Lara-Arredondo look on. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Viking Corey Cooper brings down Wildcat Latrell Kinlicheenie as Dorian Ayala and Luis Lara-Arredondo look on. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

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Viking Alex Garrett breaks through the Joseph City line in the Oct. 26 state championships quarterfinal.

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — The Williams Vikings, who have flawlessly moved through the regular season beating their opponents by large margins, are now facing their toughest games of the season without several key players.

Despite beating a strong Joseph City team, 58-16, in the quarterfinals of the 1A State Championships Oct. 26, there was some bad news for Vikings coach Jeff Brownlee in the form of injuries to top running back Chance Pearson and quarterback Kolby Payne.

Pearson, who went down in the second quarter, was sidelined with an ankle injury following a tackle at the Wildcat 40-yard line. It was later determined that Pearson sustained a fractured fibula and ligament damage and will miss the remainder of the season.

“It’s unfortunate because that kid loves football,” Brownlee said of Pearson’s injury. “He always has a smile. He just loves the game for the game.”

Payne, who stepped up in the game following Pearson’s departure, went 6 for 12 in passing for 172 yards, and 13 carries for 197 yards for the Vikings before hyperextending a knee in the fourth quarter. Back-up quarterback Zain Grantham came in as the replacement.

“Kolby played a heck of a game,” Brownlee said.

As of today, Payne’s status is unknown for the remaining post-season games.

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Chance Pearson attempts to break a tackle.

Injuries have plagued the Vikings throughout the 2018 season, beginning with star kicker David Lozano going out early in the season with a foot fracture, lineman Michael Kessler out with a midseason knee injury and now Pearson and Payne sustaining recent injuries. Cornerback Angel Ayala also sustained a concussion during the Oct. 26 game.

“Looking at those losses, we are like the walking wounded right now,” Brownlee said.

With the Vikings visibly shaken by Pearson’s injury on Friday night, the team maintained a tight defense and explosive offense to keep the Wildcats at bay and continue running-up the score.

The Wildcats came into the game and quickly capitalized on some Viking’s errors to get on the scoreboard first with an 8-0 lead.

“That really surprised the players, but we worked out some kinks,” Brownlee said. “Joe City was ready to play, which they should be in a state playoff game.”

Brownlee said the Vikings were just getting their momentum going when Pearson went down with his injury.

“That is a pretty big loss,” Brownlee said. “It shook up some of the kids, because Chance is our leader on the team.”

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Chance Pearson is assisted off the field with an ankle injury.

However, the Vikings continued to battle and went into halftime leading 36-8.

Despite the loss of several key players, Brownlee said the Viking’s depth will carry the team.

“We have some good comparable kids who can play football,” Brownlee said. “We’re going to feel some of the pain, but it will be a good challenge for the kids and for us as coaches.”

Brownlee said Dorian Ayala will step up into the 3-back position, and Grantham will play if Payne is still out.

“Dorian is a strong, hard runner. I think he’ll fit right in,” Brownlee said. “And Zain is a competitor who knows the offense and throws the ball well.”

Brownlee said the defense will also feel the effects from the loss of Pearson, but he said he was impressed with how they held the Wildcats to just eight points in a playoff game.

“In that first quarter, Joe City played near our goal line several times and our defense held them to six points until the final quarter,” Brownlee said. “I believe we are still one of the best defensive teams in the state.”

Third-ranked Mogollon will face second ranked Superior in the semifinals Nov. 3, and the winner of that game will face either Williams or Hayden in the state championships Nov. 10.

“We have our work cut-out for us with the losses we have now, you never want to overlook anybody,” Brownlee said.

The Vikings will face Hayden at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at Maricopa High School.

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