Working since the spring to improve on the 5-5 record from the past two years and reach the state playoffs for the first time in a decade, the Flagstaff Eagles face the pivotal moment of their season Friday.
“I can’t believe it is already senior year. I've got two -- hopefully more -- games, but I am not worried about that yet,” said senior Shane Lusk. “I just want to make it as good as I can, finish strong. I put in all this work, now just to try to make it worth something.”
Set to play the No. 20 Prescott Badgers 100 miles southwest of their home Friday night, Flagstaff essentially faces elimination from the Grand Canyon Region title race with a loss. Despite sitting at 6-2 overall and 3-1 in region, the No. 16 Eagles sit squarely on the playoff bubble with a third loss virtually guaranteeing an at-large bid to be impossible.
Meanwhile, the Badgers (5-3, 3-1 GCR) reside in an identical position, needing to win their final two games to force a multi-team tiebreaker in the region.
“It has kind of been my motto for the whole year, just play good football,” Lusk said of Flagstaff putting its 41-10 loss last week at Mingus behind it. “I think we are a good team and I think we can do what we need to do when we don't make those mistakes. If we play good football, penalty-free football, the score will work itself out the way we want it.”
Even with a win against the Badgers, the Eagles need help in the final week of the regular season in order to come out ahead in a potential tiebreaker. If Mingus Union tops Coconino this week, finishing 5-1 in the region, Flagstaff would need to do the same against its rival next week. Additionally, the Eagles would need the Bradshaw Mountain Bears to beat the Badgers in the final week to create a three-school logjam atop the region standings.
While Bradshaw Mountain holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against Mingus thanks to its 45-16 victory three weeks ago, Flagstaff holds the same against the Bears thanks to its 44-37 win a week prior. If all three schools tie at 5-1 with common 1-1 records against one another, Flagstaff’s conference record and power points ranking likely would clinch the Eagles the region title and automatic playoff berth.
Flagstaff faces Prescott at the most crucial point in the year after suffering its worst loss since last season. The 41 points allowed to the Marauders in Cottonwood stand as the most conceded by the Eagles this year, with the 10 scored also the lowest of the season.
“We just need to play as a team, that's really what goes through my head,” said senior Quentin Miller. “Keeping the team together to kind of push through it and hopefully we can get this win.”
Falling behind early against Mingus, Flagstaff trailed 34-0 before finally getting on the board in the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t think about it, it took me forever to stomach even watching it on film last weekend getting the stats and stuff on it,” said Eagles co-head coach Paul Wolf. “It happens, we had a lot of kids out missing and it just kind of snowballed on us.”
The Badgers enter Friday’s home game with an odd trend continuing last week at Coconino. Perfect on the road at 5-0, Prescott lost all three of its home games this season.
Led by senior running back Ryan Greene and junior quarterback Austin Clarke, the Badgers offense has been balanced all year. Greene, who spent time at quarterback in previous season, is on the verge of breaking the 1,000-yard plateau.
Sitting at 996 yards and 11 touchdowns on 120 carries, Greene’s production has seen ups and downs in recent weeks. Recording a season-high 233 yards on the ground against Mohave three weeks ago, Greene fell to 38 yards in a loss against Mingus the following week before rising back to 91 rushing yards last week at Coconino.
Meanwhile, Clarke threw for at least 155 yards in four of the past five weeks, with just 46 against Lee Williams the lone sub 100-yard performance. Totaling 894 yards on 62-of-125 passing, Clarke’s thrown nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, with two apiece the last two weeks. Senior John Chaffeur leads the Badgers with 390 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 24 catches, adding three of his team’s seven interceptions on defense.
While the Badgers gave up just 33 points combined in region wins against Coconino, Lee Williams and Mohave, they allowed Mingus to score 38 in their lone Grand Canyon loss. Similarly, Prescott scored just six points in that loss while running up 91 in the three victories.