Mike Lapsley is aware that the 0-2 Carl Hayden Falcons have athletes, talent and speed on the roster, and he wants to make sure they don't figure out how to utilize those tools against his Coconino Panthers.

Seeking to start the football season at 2-0, the 4A Conference Panthers host a 5A Falcons team Friday that has been outscored 70-14 across its first two outings. Moreover, Coconino's leading rushing Zach Bennett already has more yards in just one game individually as Carl Hayden does through two games as a team.

Lapsley, set to coach his first-ever home game with the Panthers, said his team cannot overlook any opponent on any given Friday and needs to keep improving while avoiding playing down if Carl Hayden continues to stumble.

“Our whole motto is one rep at a time, one step at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time," first-year Panthers head coach Lapsley said. "So we most certainly are not going to take this team lightly. They have some athletes.”

Coconino didn't exactly trounce Carl Hayden in last year's meeting in Phoenix, but did control the contest and came away with a 27-0 win behind 181 rushing yards from Bennett. Bennett set a career high that night rushing, but has since shattered that number this season when he ran for 259 yards in last week's season-opening victory on the road against Thunderbird, 35-13.

Bennett also recorded an 85-yard rushing touchdown in the win against Thunderbird, and the Panthers got on the board first thanks to Eli Deherrera scooping up a blocked punt and returning it for a score.

Although those highlights from nearly a week ago gave Lapsley reasons to be excited about where his team is heading this year, all-around execution could have gone smoother.

“We’ve had some special teams issues there that we need to work out, and that’s why we are hitting it hard there this week and making sure we don’t make the same mistakes on fourth downs,” Lapsley said.

Carl Hayden, which ended last season with a 3-7 record, has its own hefty share of work to do if they want to come out ahead of Coconino Friday at Cromer Stadium. The Falcons tallied just 250 rushing yards so far this season to go with 17 in the air. Only their leading rusher, Kevin Yarbough has seen the end zone this season at a tally of two times.

Meanwhile, three different Panthers made their way across the goal line in their season opener, with Bennett, Deherrera and Bailey Mccauslin providing TDs. And the defense did its work with three sacks for a loss of 24 yards total.

“We’re going to treat them just like every other team we face on a Friday night,” Lapsley asserted.

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Now that Lapsley has seen game footage of his team, he wants to keep building on the foundation set last week. He also wouldn't mind leading the Panthers to a 2-0 start in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the team did so in 1996 and '97.

“I think all teams experience a little bit of those first-game blues a little bit and say, “Oh, my God,’ Lapsley said. "But the positive is that you know what to work on, you know what to emphasize for that week of practice."

Here are a few more things to watch for as the Panthers host the Falcons on Friday at 7 p.m.:


Kyle Casados had 12 total tackles in last week's season opener against Thunderbird in the Valley, setting a tone for the Panthers defense at the start of the 2019 season in addition to a new career high in the category.

"I think with him being a senior, he’s really embracing that and doing what he can to have an outstanding year. With that said, he’s taking the time to make sure teammates are on the right track and is being a really good leader for us, too," Lapsley said.


Cromer Stadium's resurfacing and renovations are ready for Friday, and the team is excited to be break it in. Lapsley said just practicing on the field gave his team a boost.


The trend of different players scoring for the Panthers is something Lapsley would like to see continue. 

Last season, seven total different players ended the year with a rushing TD.

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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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