Left without a few of their key players from the opening week of the season, the Coconino Panthers (1-1) enter the second game of their run of road games hoping to see them back on the field.

Zack Christopher and Cayden Fordyce did not play against the Greenway Demons last Friday night in Phoenix while Kyle Sauer dressed but did not participate. Coconino, playing in the Valley’s heat and down a few of its core starters, fell to Greenway 46-14 after opening the year with a home win against Page.

“It definitely makes you have to restructure a couple things,” said Panthers head coach Jeremiah Smith. “I am not sure what the injury status is for some of the guys, we still have to wait until Thursday, but we are hoping to be close to full strength.”

Sauer scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in the win against Page, with Christopher adding a fumble recovery off of a sack as well as his work in the backfield. With the two absent from the game, the Panthers’ gameplan against the Demons needed to be tweaked.

“You plan in the offseason for certain kids to do certain things, but then injuries happen and that's where you have to make sure that their backups are well aware of what's going on,” Smith said. “It may not be the same style of offense, you kind of have to tailor it to those kids a little bit.”

No matter who carries the ball for Coconino in Week Three, the Panthers will hope to continue the success schools have had against the Payson Longhorns through three games.

Allowing 143 points to 3A schools Safford, Casteel and Fountain Hills, fellow 3A member Payson (0-3) has struggled after losing 15 seniors to graduation. Of the group that beat Coconino 34-14 at Cromer Field and reached the 3A quarterfinals, the Longhorns lost their starting quarterback, top two rushers and three of the team’s four leading receivers.

While still running the same Wing-T offense, just with a new crop of players, Smith said it still may not have the same look as it did a year ago based on the personnel.

“It never hurts to see the offense last year and see it year to year, but you still have to gameplan for it,” Smith said. “In that Wing-T, some years you may have a really good wing and other years you may have a really good fullback. They kind of seemed a little more balanced, they tend to try and run it up the middle a little more.”

After being shut out for the first eight quarters of the season, Payson scored 13 points in last Friday’s loss to Fountain Hills and two of its losses came on its home field. Regardless of the Longhorns’ early season struggles, Smith remained cautious entering Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup in Payson, preaching disciple to his defense.

“That’s been the word for the last week and a half, we have just got to play discipline football and know our assignments,” Smith said. “It’s just making sure that we stay in our gaps, and we stay home and stay disciplined and funnel it into certain areas.”

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Cody Bashore serves as the beat writer for Northern Arizona University basketball and football in addition to covering high school sports around Flagstaff for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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