Backing The Silver And Black

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The Raider nation is alive and well in the Rim Country.

But rather than being the crazies that reign in the stands of Oakland's McAfee Coliseum, this Raider nation -- made up mostly of moms and dads -- cheers a local major division youth football team that has dominated the Central Arizona Youth Football Association scene for the past five seasons.

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The Payson mighty mite Raiders defeated their division rival Bears, 18-12, in double overtime to advance to the Central Arizona Youth Football Association championships to be played tomorrow, Saturday in Cottonwood. A foursome of Raiders, including Bryce Stodghill, Rourke Freebur, Brigham Flake and Isiah Blair, pursue a Bear ball carrier.

During that span of time, the Raiders have lost only one game. That loss was suffered in 2006 by a score of 26-24 to the Cottonwood Cardinals.

The Raiders rebounded later that season to beat the Cards 44-18.

After going undefeated during this year's regular season, the Raiders began pursuit of yet another division title Nov. 3, against the Show Low Titans. When the White Mountain team didn't field a team, the Raiders were awarded a forfeit win.

The following week, the Raiders defeated the Cottonwood Chargers 20-8 to qualify for the championship finale, to be played Nov. 17 in Cottonwood.

In addition to the major division Raiders, the Rim Country mighty mite division Raiders team is also making a name for itself.

The mighty mites defeated the Payson Bears 18-12 Nov. 10 at Payson High School to earn a berth in the CAYFA championships, also to be played Nov. 17 in Cottonwood.

Although the Bears lost to the Raiders, the Rim Country version of Ursus arctos will meet the Payson Buccaneers in Cottonwood for the division's consolation championship.

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On a sweep-left play (above), a Bear ball carrier tries to elude the grasp of Jason Daniels.

For the major division Raiders, running backs Chase Walden, Chance Randall and quarterback Levi Wilkins lead the team offensively.

Wilkins also plays middle linebacker on defense.

Other defensive stalwarts include Cole Belcher, Garret Geske, Ray Lott, Josh Oakley, Lane Kamp and Vince Becham.

Belcher, when not playing linebacker, holds down either a receiver or running back slot.

Raider coaches say personnel and positions change according to which defense the team is aligned in.

On offense, the team has three distinct sets, including a formation players call "Black Plague."

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Raider Brigham Flake brings down a Bear runner from behind.

During the regular season, the Raiders outscored their opponents 174-49.

Billy Hardt has coached the team since 1994. In 2003, assistant head coach Dale Gonzalez joined the staff.

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