At the onset of the high school football season there were plenty of fans, boosters and armchair quarterbacks around Arizona willing to hand the state championship football trophy to Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro.
But, surprise, surprise — the trophy instead went to the Show Low Cougars who ambushed the Yellow Jackets 20-17 on Nov. 27 in the Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University.
The reasons so many onlookers were ready early on to give the state crown to Blue Ridge are many — the Jackets’ already formidable roster was bolstered by the transfer to BRHS of two big-time stars, the Jackets were the defending state champions, Blue Ridge was in the hunt for the 12th state title under Moro, the team was on a 15-game winning streak, the Yellow Jackets had beaten Show Low in the 2009 state-title game and the school thrives on the richest football tradition in Arizona.
Mention football in small-town Arizona and most images are of powerful Blue Ridge, their triple option offense and defensive bandits who always seem to be in the right place at the right time.
The notion that BRHS would be crowned 2010 champions was bolstered in midseason when the Yellow Jackets outmanned Show Low 36-18 in what was probably the biggest game of the year.
But none of that mattered when the two teams met for the 3A state championship.
Show Low was expected to rely on the prolific passing arm of quarterback Rathen Ricedorf for any success the Cougars enjoyed. But it was actually the Cats’ unheralded defense that won the game for SLHS.
In the final minutes, with the Yellow Jackets threatening to score what probably would have been the winning TD, senior cornerback Joey Raymond intercepted a Nick Johnson pass in the corner of the end zone to end the threat and give the Cougars their third state title since 2003.
Show Low led 20-3 at halftime and appeared to be waltzing to victory.
But the never-say-die Jackets roared back to 20-10 and then 20-17 to set the stage for the fourth-quarter drama.
With the SLHS win, you can bet the fans in Show Low are dancing and prancing on Deuce of Clubs.
After all, there’s nothing sweeter in the White Mountain town than beating the archrivals from up the road — and making small-town football fans around the entire state eat their crow-flavored predictions the Blue Ridge High School would retain 3A football laurels.