Photo by Wendy Howell.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are 17, just a young man, all muscle and speed, and within your grasp is a moment that will change your life, give you something to remember forever.
You’ve trained, you’ve prepared, you’ve absorbed the talk, and now you’re here.
Bright lights, strange city, familiar faces.
There are only two things that separate your team from the other team on the other side of the field.
One is that you are confident. The other is that you are fast.
On Nov. 11, the Williams Vikings took that confidence and speed to Maricopa High School and faced the Superior Panthers at the Arizona State Championships.
They not only brought home the 1A State title, but they brought back a memory that will stay with them, their school and their community forever.
“Not everyone gets to experience this,” said head coach Jeff Brownlee. “This means everything in the world to us as coaches. We needed this for our community.”
Brownlee said the loss to Bagdad last year at the state championships was difficult on the players and school, but the team used it as a catalyst for the 2017 season.
“Last year was heartbreaking,” said Brownlee about the loss. “This year we wanted to build on what happened…and I think we did that tonight.”
And they did it in grand fashion.
After a sluggish first half that included two fumbles, the Vikings charged the field in the second half and commanded the game by outscoring the Panthers by 41 points in the third and fourth quarters to bring home a Vikings victory.
Big yards in the second half, along with a dominant offensive and defensive line, brought in the points for the Vikings while keeping the Panthers from moving the ball much at all.
“All of the momentum was with Superior there (in the first half),” Brownlee said. “But that touchdown before the half just changed the momentum for our football team.”
After the coin toss, Superior received the ball and quickly brought the ball to the Vikings 16-yard line. However, the Vikings defense kept the Panthers out of the end zone and allowed the Vikings to take possession with 9:00 on the clock.
After just two carries by the Vikings, the Panthers recovered a fumble on the Williams 34-yard line and the Panthers’ Steven Ybarra carried the ball into the end zone for the first touchdown and conversion of the game, putting the Panthers on the board, 8-0.
With 6:17 still in the first quarter, the Vikings responded with a 65-yard Daniel Lopez run for the Vikings first touchdown. The conversion was good and the score evened up 8-8.
In the second quarter, Lopez again took the ball down field, this time for an 80-yard run into the end zone, but the play was called back because of a holding penalty on the Vikings.
With 7:40 left in the second, Chance Pearson took the ball for 57-yards for a second Vikings touchdown. Another good conversion and the score moved 16-8.
“The line was doing a good job, they always had my back with the blocks,” Pearson said.
After another Vikings fumble, Superior recovered the ball and worked it downfield for a second touchdown to bring the score 16-14. A key block by Lopez kept the Panthers from converting the extra points.
“We had a couple early turnovers that hurt us,” Brownlee said. “We just couldn’t find our groove yet.”
With 16 seconds left on the clock in the second quarter, Pearson took a screen pass 64-yards to the end zone, leaving the Vikings in the lead 22-14 as they headed to the locker room.
“Once we scored before halftime and knew we were going to get the ball in the second half, we believed we could really build on that,” Brownlee said. “Our offensive line took over.”
With a new momentum after the half, Lopez brought the ball 45 yards on three carries to set up Pedraza for a four-yard touchdown run. The extra point by David Lozano was good to put the Vikings up 29-14.
With a two touchdown cushion, the Vikings began to show their confidence as the running duo of Pearson and Lopez ate up yards and the defensive line was impenetrable by the Panthers.
“We are spoiled with those two backs,” Brownlee said. “What great weapons. You have Daniel Lopez who is a speedster and there’s Chance Pearson…he’s our power guy.”
The Vikings defensive line not only stopped the Panthers’ forward progress, but a key interception by Tate Grantham on the Viking 8-yard line kept the Panthers from the end zone with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
“I saw the receiver come over the middle and I knew he had to get rid of it,” Grantham said. “So when he threw it up over the middle I went up and got it. It was a big point for our football team and I’m just so happy we got this done. I’ve never been more excited in my life. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid.”
The Vikings continued the pillage as Pearson ran the ball another 79 yards to the 1-yard line, with Pedraza putting the hammer down on a one-yard run to bring the Vikings up 42-14.
“All year long we’ve had a solid running game,” Brownlee said. “I believe that up front we were probably a little more physical. We believed that we could run the ball.”
David Lozano added to the score with a 27-yard touchdown pass reception to move the Vikings up 48-14.
The Vikings special teams added some flair with a fake PAT play between Zane Grantham and Zack Perkins, to move the score to 50-14
A final 30-yard Pedraza-to- Perkins touchdown pass left the final score 57-14.
“This is just a big relief and total excitement,” Brownlee said. “I love the community of Williams. Our kids knew our community was backing us 110 percent. They wanted to perform very well for us, our school and the community all together. We’re just so excited about this right now.”
The Vikings ran 36 plays for 541 yards on offense.
Pedraza ended the night completing 6 for 8 for 142 yards passing.
Pearson ran 231 yards on 13 carries, including two punt returns for 59 yards. Lopez ran 166 yards on 16 carries.
Defensively, Tate Grantahm had six tackles, five assists and one interception.
Perkins had four solo tackles and nine assists; Dorian Ayala had five tackles and five assists; and Mario Vasquez had five tackles and five assists.
Lozano had three kickoff touchbacks.