The Coconino Panthers football team owns a 5-0 record for just the second time in program history -- and now it owns a signature win for the 2019 season.

Coming off a 28-14 victory in Prescott Valley against the Bradshaw Mountain Bears, the Panthers used last week's win to boost themselves to No. 13 in the first set of AIA power-point rankings released Tuesday.

The road victory was also a boost of confidence for the team that has the highest spot of any Grand Canyon Region squad on the 4A Conference rankings list.

“I think it helps the confidence. We always talk about that confidence is something that’s earned, and every successful Friday night that we can have that, confidence tends to build for us,” said Panthers first-year head coach Mike Lapsley on Wednesday.

The undefeated squad also learned a lot about game-time situations in last week's victory over a team the Panthers have not topped since 1998. For instance, Coconino limited the first real dual-threat quarterback they've faced all season, holding Bradshaw Mountain's Josh Grant to a season low of just six yards passing.

Another powerhouse from the region awaits for the chance to cool charging Coconino, as the 17th-ranked Prescott Badgers visit Cromer Stadium on Friday looking to make a statement.

“We will certainly have to match their physicality and make sure we execute on every single play," Lapsley said of taking on the Badgers, who finished second in the region standings last year and have not lost to the Panthers since 2005.

But Coconino's success has come down to their attitude, Lapsley said. For the most part, he said, they take "every game like it's a championship game."

That mentality has led to the team setting new program records and defeating their first five opponents by a combined score of 241-52.

Coconino's depth in the backfield is also helping the team burst to a solid start that's slowly leading to more playoff expectations for a crew that just missed the cut a year ago. Through the first five weeks, six different Panthers have rushed for a touchdown and four have pushed their way into recording 100 yards running or more overall.

Panthers junior running back Zach Bennett leads the team -- and the region -- with 17 rushing TDs and 824 yards on the ground. Behind the workhorse is Bailey McCauslin with 277 yards rushing and Aaron Avitia with 182 yards rushing. Both McCauslin and Avitia have four rushing TDs apiece.

“It’s really easy for some teams to look at who they need to stop. Knowing that we have such a deep, talented backfield helps us keep defenses honest and allows us to do different things with different people, and that has certainly led to success,” Lapsley said.

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The Badgers also bring depth in the backfield, with four of their players tallying 100 yards rushing or more so far this season. Six different Badgers have also made at least one trip into the end zone via the ground game.

Senior Sylas Espitia leads Prescott heading into Friday with 338 yards rushing on 62 attempts to go with a team-high seven scores.

It's just another challenge for a Panthers defense that has been solid in getting stops and turnovers and limiting big plays.

“Our defense has been playing extremely well, and eliminating big plays is part of our MO," Lapsley said.

Here are few more things to watch for when the Panthers (5-0, 2-0 Grand Canyon) host the Badgers (3-2, 1-0) Friday at 7 p.m.


Second in rushing for the Badgers is senior QB Dellinger Boyd, who has collected 254 yards on the ground to go with 539 yards passing. He's coming off one of his strongest performances of the season, a 121-yard passing, three-touchdown game against Flagstaff two weeks ago as the team is coming off its bye week.


Both teams enter on winning streaks, as the Badgers have won their last three games. In fact, Prescott did so in dominant fashion, outscoring their last three foes 142-13.


Coconino's Manuel Cardoza leads his team in total tackles at 45. Meanwhile, Kyle Casados has 28 and Jonathan Jaramillo has 24.

Prescott is led in the category by Sam Giordan's 62, 13 of which have been for a loss of yards.

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.


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