The gaudy gridiron reputation of the now defunct 3A East received yet another boost when two former members of the conference and region advanced to the Division IV state championship tournament finale by virtue of convincing semi-final wins.
Playing in the final four Nov. 19 in Paradise Valley, state top-ranked Blue Ridge steamrolled previously unbeaten Chandler Seton 45-14 and Show Low unveiled a newfound running attack to defeat Florence 31-14.
Both BR and Show Low were members of the rugged 3A East before an AIA reconfiguration this year replaced the conference/region alignment with divisions and sections.
Some predicted at the onset of the football season that the domination of the East, which Payson was a longtime member, could be over because in the new alignment the small-town Arizona teams would be forced to compete against some so-called “big schools” that had formerly been members of the 4A conference.
Among the ex-4A schools projected to dominate in the new alignment were Seton, Buckeye and Mingus. All three had been top guns in 4A shoot-outs.
Mingus, however, struggled early on, narrowly making the playoffs before being eliminated in the first round by a humbling 49-6 loss to Show Low.
Buckeye enjoyed a decent season, earning a No. 8 seed to the state tournament. But in the second round, the Hawks were stung 41-14 by the BR Yellow Jackets
Seton rolled through the regular season undefeated, prompting some to declare “told you so; the big schools will rule.”
But when the Sentinels found themselves pitted against Blue Ridge, Chandler parochial school players quickly learned they were no match for the well-oiled White Mountain machine that purrs along like a fine-tuned, high horsepower V-8.
With the Yellow Jackets’ and Cougars’ final four wins, the two schools — which are located only a few miles from one another — advance to the state title game at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 26 at Northern Arizona University.
The game will be a rematch of the 2010 state championship game in which Show Low ambushed the heavily favored Jackets, 41-21.
During the 2011 regular season the two archrivals clashed at SLHS where the Jackets won a 10-9 thriller.
Over the past decade, the Longhorns played both BR and the Cougars each and every year because the schools were members of the same conference and region.
With the reconfiguration, the Horns did not play BR this past season.
PHS did play the Cougars, losing 30-12 in Show Low.
In the upcoming 2011 championship game, the Cougars are expected to call upon the same potent ground game they used in the final four win over Florence. The attack is led by BYU-bound Josh Weeks who scored on a 58-yard punt return and a 3-yard run vs. Florence.
Danny Groebner, one of the most versatile players in Arizona, will most likely pace the Yellow Jackets.
Against Seton, he broke off TD runs of 36 and 95 yards and caught a 50-yard scoring pass.
In all, the BR star was credited with an eye-popping 273 yards of total offense.