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During last week's rout of Mohave, Coconino Panthers head coach Mike Moran wondered if maybe his team should let up a little on the way to a 52-7 victory.

If it weren't for a 46-yard touchdown run, the Panthers (5-2, 2-2 Grand Canyon Region) would have gotten their third shutout of the season and the beating would have looked even worse.

They'll have a chance to keep another opponent off the board on Friday when they travel to Kingman to take on the Lee Williams Volunteers and start a stretch of two games away from Cromer Stadium with the region match-up.

The Panthers, No. 16 in the 4A Conference and just inside the playoff bubble, have allowed an average of about 19 points per game, with a game-high total of 40 surrendered in a victory against Mingus Union. Moreover, Coconino has not lost a game by more than 14 points.

On the other hand, the Volunteers (2-5, 0-3) are allowing 10 more points per game than their Friday opponent. They'll enter the game winless in the conference and region, and facing a three-game skid, during which they gave up 131 total points.

Last week, the Flagstaff Eagles blanked the Volunteers, 39-0.

Coconino's leading tacklers Aaron Avitia and Manuel Cordoza have played  a large role in the team's resurgent season.

Avitia leads the team in tackles with 48, while Cordoza sits a close second at 41. For a team that has a knack for capitalizing on turnovers, Cordoza, a sophomore, has an interception and two caused fumbles, one of which he recovered, and Avitia, a junior, also has a fumble recovery to his name.

Cordoza and Avitia helped set up Coconino to do something this week it hasn't since 2012 -- win six games.

When Moran first got the head coach position, Avitia asked him what he's going to do. Moran said he was going to win games, then asked him what he's going to do.

"He's so strong up front, and Manuel is a sophomore that plays great basketball for me and comes out for football and does a phenomenal job on the outside making great tackles," Moran said. "... Both of them have been rock-solid, tough guys."

Avitia, a middle linebacker, works with Moses Rilometo to hold down the middle. Cordoza is on the left side's strength.

The two-way players for the Panthers have also added contributions to both sides of the ball. Kyle Sauer has a pick to go with 170 yards rushing and two touchdowns via the ground game. Last week, quarterback Ty Furr broke up back-to-back Mohave pass attempts and added 59 yards on the ground.

Coconino has five interceptions and 10 recovered fumbles as team, eight of which it caused.

In addition to the turnovers, the Panthers are getting stops.

Last week, Coconino stopped Mohave on a 4th-and-goal at the Panthers 1-yard line, keeping the Thunderbirds off the scoreboard the entire second half. In the win over Mingus, the defense allowed the Marauders to go 2 for 10 on third-down conversions.

Moran has made sure his team works on conditioning, and the hard work is paying off.

"It's something I monitor all the time, I am constantly watching that to make sure they are fresh down the stretch," Moran said.


Panthers leading rushing Zach Bennett needs just 22 yards rushing to reach 1,000, becoming the first rusher to hit the mark since Luke Daulton in 2011. Bennett already has 12 rushing TDs this season.

The last time a Coconino player notched 10 or more rushing scores was in 2016, when David Quick had 10.

Furthermore, Bennett has more trips into the end zone via the ground assault this season than Lee Williams has as a team. The Volunteers, however, have eight touchdown passes total, with seven coming from senior quarterback Enzo Marino, who has a completion percentage at 56 percent and nine interceptions -- four of which came last week against the Eagles.

Friday's game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start.

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


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