Raider Nation Cages Camp Verde Bulldogs

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For longtime Payson Raiders youth football coach Billy Hardt, the past season was highlighted by crucial clashes against their Camp Verde nemesis.

The showdowns between the Raiders and Bulldogs climaxed Nov. 20 at Chino Valley High School where the Raiders captured their second consecutive Central Arizona Youth Football Association championship with a 30-0 win over the gritty Camp Verde team.

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Members of the CAYFA championship Raider team include: Front row: Timmy Lantz, Jake Gonzalez, Ryan Cox, Cody Sexton, Sean Ford, Jacob Gonzalez and Elden Siverson. Middle row: Jordan Bane, Tanner Clawson, Clayton Chlarson, Brandon Ford, Clifford Lopez, Jerod Schrank, J.B. Thorton and Jacob Gardner. Back Row: Rusty Lantz, Matt Ford, Dale Gonzalez, Tom McCorgary, Hugh Schrank, Bill Hardt and Andrew McCorgary.

With the win, the Raiders finished 11-0 record, outscoring their opponents by a whopping 243 point margin.

Last year, the team was 10-0 and league champions. In 2002, the Raiders compiled at 10-1 mark.

A player who has been a big part of that run is 14-year-old Cody Sexton.

"I've learned a lot being on this team," he said, "about how to work together and it's important to give 100 percent."

The championship battle against the Bulldogs was just one of three the Raiders had during the season.

In an Oct. 9 CAYFA clash, the Raiders traveled to Camp Verde to meet a Bulldog team that was rolling along with a 4-0 mark.

The Raiders, who were also 4-0, suffered a huge loss on an opening kickoff reverse play when Ryan Cox broke his arm during a kick off return.

Without their starting flanker in the game, the Raiders pulled together to build a 14-0 halftime lead on touchdowns by Timmy Lantz and Clifford Lopez.

In the second half, the Raiders tacked on two insurance touchdowns to push the final count to 26-0.

With the win, the Raiders were 5-0 and alone atop the CAYFA Eastern Conference standings.

More than a month after that win, in the championship game, Cox's injury healed and he returned to the lineup.

"What a thrill that must have been for him," Hardt said.

In the second meeting of the rivals, during midseason on Payson High School field, the Raiders narrowly survived their biggest challenge, 16-14, from the determined Dogs.

In the first half, the rivals locked horns in an 8-8 tie. In the second half, both teams scored touchdowns but the Raiders' successful two-point conversion proved to be the winning margin.

The two TDs the Raiders defense allowed Camp Verde was the most points the team defense gave up in a single game this season.

The Bulldogs, however, were not the Raiders only challenge. In Payson, the black-and-silver found plenty of competition from their major division counterpart Eagles squad. Following a hard-fought 22-0 mid-season victory over the Eagles, Hardt praised the Payson crew as the hardest-hitting team the Raiders had played.

"The Eagles came to play," the coach said.

Much of the coach's praise for the success of the Raider team was directed throughout the campaign towards the offensive line.

Following a midseason win, Hardt praised Sean Ford, Brandon Ford, Jake Gonzalez, Tanner Clawsen and Jordan Bane "for their toughness."

For the Raider players, a season that began with great promise four months ago wrapped up just as they hoped -- with another team championship.

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