Have the Beasts of the East finally been caged?
That's the question being asked in small town Arizona football circles mostly because the East region's three top seeds all lost in Nov. 10 state tournament quarterfinal action.
Not having the team in the final four is a very rare occurrence for a region that has long been a top dog in the 3A conference.
During the past two decades, the East has dominated postseason play, winning state titles and often sending two teams to the championship finale.
Since the mid-1980s, Blue Ridge won nine state championships, Snowflake claimed seven crowns, Show Low has two and Payson one.
Blue Ridge won four consecutive titles from 1994 to 1997 before losing the championship to Payson in 1998.
Snowflake won consecutive 3A crowns in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
The East's gridiron dominance earned the region a reputation as the toughest in the state.
But all the bravado began to slip away last year when two non-East schools -- Coolidge and Winslow --met in the state championship.
With the elimination Friday of Show Low, Blue Ridge and Round Valley, the East is left without a representative school in the final four.
Snowflake, the East's fourth seed, lost to Winslow in the opening round of the state tournament.
Round Valley entered the tournament unbeaten and one of the favorites to win the 2006 title. But much to the chagrin of the Eagar-Springerville fans, Round Valley was dumped 50-21 by South Region two-seed and defending state champion Coolidge.
Entering the fray, the Elks players and coaches knew they would have to put the clamps on Bear quarterback Jesse Wheeler.
Only trouble is that Round Valley couldn't slow the dynamo -- offensively or defensively.
Wheeler completed 9-of-11 passes for 150 yards, rushed for 51 yards and intercepted Round Valley signal caller, Trevor Nicoll, on the third play of the game.
The pick set up the Bears' first touchdown of the game as Coolidge rolled to a 43-14 half time lead.
Probably the most controversial defeat in the state tournament occurred in Show Low's 20-19 loss to south champ Chandler Seton Catholic.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, Show Low trailed by one and had a first down inside the Chandler 5-yard line. The Cougars, however, did not have any timeouts remaining.
On Show Low's final play of the game, the team tried a quarterback sneak.
After a pause by officials as they untangled the pile, the attempt was signaled short of the goal.
That set off a fury of protests by the SLHS coaching staff and fans who claimed the quarterback had crossed the goal and the Cougars had won the game.
The officials, however, nixed that protest and Seton will advance to the state final four.
In Show Low, there are some fans who are tossing the blame for the loss on first year coach, Danny Hawkins. They are saying he should have had a field goal team ready in the final seconds to kick what would have been the winning points.
On a White Mountain football Web site, a fan posted a comment that read:
"Did anyone hear Hawkins blame the refs for the loss after the game? His comments were pathetic. Show some class, Hawkins. Perhaps if you had worked on those special teams more, those same field goal teams that were horrendous all season long, you'd still be alive in the playoffs."
In the East's third quarterfinal loss, three-seeded Blue Ridge fell 26-23 to unbeaten West champion, Wickenburg.
The West has had a reputation in the past as being a weak region, but the Wranglers' victory changed all that.
In the state semifinals Nov. 15 at Mesa College, Seton will take on Wickenburg and Coolidge will challenge Winslow.
The survivors will meet 4 p.m. Nov. 24 at McClintock High School for the championship, which, for the second successive season, will not go to an East team.