By the end of last season, Coconino and Greenway finished next to each other in the 4A Conference rankings, but last season's game between the programs didn't end nearly as close.
The Panthers, who fell 46-16 at home a year ago to the Demons, finished the year with the 34th ranking out of 43 teams, while Greenway was 33rd. The Demons, who went 3-7 in 2016, used a balanced attack last year to hand Coconino the loss, putting up three passing touchdowns and four on the ground that included a 99-yarder.
The Panthers, who had a 2-8 record in 2016, want to close that gap this time around -- and then some -- hoping they can come out of Week 2 as the team with the 2-0 record. In order to do so, Coconino will have to keep pace with a Greenway squad that avoids the huddle, works fast and keeps defenses off-balance.
“They run all no-huddle, so it’s going to be a high-tempo game. So defensively, we’ve talked about that,” Panthers head coach Jeremiah Smith said at Thursday's practice.
Coconino will also have to limit the Greenway ground threat, which accumulated 196 of the 226 rushing yards in last season's contest. Now a senior, Parker Reeves is a large part of Greenway's offensive system, having already posted 143 yards and three rushing touchdowns this season in the opening victory against Independence, a team Greenway edged, 7-6, last season.
Smith said going up against an offense that likes to push the pace will be good experience for his defense, which recovered two fumbles and had two picks in the 21-14 opener against Page last week. In fact, other than some mistakes that led to some long rushing touchdowns in the opening week, Smith said he was pleased with how good his lines looked.
“Aaron Avitia, Riley Darnell played well for us inside, so did Cayden Fordyce. Zach Christopher led our team in tackles, solos and assisted,” Smith said.
Christopher also contributed 17 yards on three carries and one catch for nine yards against Page. Leading the run game for the Panthers, Kyle Sauer collected 111 yards to go with his ground TD and two-point conversion.
Greenway got better and better as last week's game unfolded. The team, currently ranked No. 16 in the conference by MaxPreps.com, scored six in the first quarter, eight in the second, 14 in the third and 19 in the final frame. Using two ball carriers heavily, the Demons also got 67 yards on seven carries from junior TJ Murphy on their way to the first win.
As they move forward, staying consistent from game to game will be a big focus for the Panthers, who in the past have had their ups and downs. Smith thinks more consistency and confidence can help his 31st-ranked team to get through the next three weeks of road games.
“A lot of first-game jitters," against Page, Smith said, addressing penalties and the cracks in the defense that allowed a couple big runs. "And we have to be more disciplined. We talked about being confident about doing your job."
Ty Furr, after seeing his first couple passes dropped last week, maintained his composure as quarterback for the Panthers. He ended up going 4 for 11 with 72 passing yards in addition to a rushing and passing touchdown.
For Smith, coaches, not just players, have to keep up the confidence.
“One thing I try to stress with him is, whether you had an incomplete or a pick, I am going to come back to you again, and you have to be confident to throw the ball," Smith said.