Coconino football has the turnaround season under its belt. It has the blowouts, the record-breaking performances and it has avoided the letdowns.
Now comes the time to rise to the occasion and use the build-up to try to take down a program that has been seen as a juggernaut of the Grand Canyon Region.
The Panthers are on the road for second straight week Friday as they take on the Bradshaw Mountain Bears, a team Coconino has not beaten since 1998 and has an all-time record of 2-8 against.
“We don’t really empathize whether it’s a road trip or a home game. At this point, we will play anybody wherever; that’s our mentality for this thing. Hopefully the boys are ready to go, and we think they are,” Panthers first-year head coach Mike Lapsley said Wednesday.
Knowing Bradshaw comes ready to play out of the gates for all contests, Lapsley said being ready from the first snap of the game will be key for his Conference 4A Panthers (4-0, 1-0 region), who lost their first game of the 2018 season a year ago to the Bears (3-2, 1-0).
The 2018 loss kept Coconino from improving to 5-0, something the program has done just once -- in 1983's 9-1 season.
“An early start is always good for us," Lapsley said. "In terms of punching them in the mouth early, that sets the tone. We are hoping to come out really enthusiastic, and not just match their intensity but one-up their intensity.”
Coconino has scored 28 first-quarter points against its last three opponents and is averaging 22.5 points in the opening quarter per game heading into Prescott Valley on Friday.
Another goal is also to limit the big play against the Bears, who have three threats when it comes to scoring in outbursts.
Bradshaw has the most balanced attack Coconino has seen yet in addition to the most effective dual-threat quarterback its yet to face. Bears junior QB Josh Grant leads the team in rushing yards at 325 to go with five trips into the end zone. The signal caller also has five passing touchdowns and 464 yards of offense in the air.
But Grant has also thrown seven interceptions, and the Panthers love taking the ball away from offenses and letting the offense capitalize.
“Our mentality is we come down with the ball or nobody does," Panthers defensive coordinator Dalton Schwetz said Wednesday. "We are going to be challenged, they will test us vertically, and I am leaving it up to the guys in the back end to go make plays.”
Although he didn't go into specifics, Schwetz knows his secondary will be busy with the likes of Bears wide receiver Alex Cabral, a senior with 202 yards receiving and four receiving TDs coming in three of five games.
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Cabral also had a 43-yard reception in a 36-12 loss to 4A Greenway.
“I have a ton of faith in both of our corners and our secondary in general," Schwetz said of guys such as Kyle Casados, Andy Ruiz and Steven Owens. "So we are going to throw different looks at him, some zone looks, man looks, get after the quarterback and see what happens from there.”
And if Bradshaw can't connect down the field, it can always hand the ball off to leading running back Titus King, who has seven rushing TDs and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. King has only one 100-yard rushing game, and it came Friday against Lee Williams in a 35-20 win that marked a successful region opener and started a two-game homestand.
It's all a great test for a Coconino defense that's been forcing turnovers, scoring points and getting multiple guys to the ball for stops week in and out.
It's also a great test for the players on offense to keep the depth working on all cylinders. The Panthers put up a season-high 410 rushing yards against Mingus Union Friday in Cottonwood en route to a 52-14 win that saw multiple Panthers make plays with their feet, including Aaron Avitia's three rushing touchdowns.
“It’s important to our success to have multiple threats carrying the ball and have guys rise to the occasion,” Lapsley said.
Here are a few more things to watch for when Coconino takes on hosting Bradshaw on Friday at 7 p.m.:
The AIA will release its first set of power-points rankings on Tuesday. Both Coconino and Bradshaw could use Friday as a way to work themselves into a strong position in the rankings.
A LEG UP
After leaving the game last week on a roughing the kicker call that left him injured, Panthers stud kicker Jesus Trejo is most likely going to miss Friday's game.
Meanwhile, Bradshaw's Grant has been a solid foot for his team as well as an arm. Grant is third in the 4A in scoring via the kick with 30 points and has made 18 extra points this season to Trejo's 23.