The 2018 football season has been riddled with close calls and missed chances for the No. 27 Flagstaff Eagles (3-6, 2-3 Grand Canyon Region).
Four home losses that have all come within eight or fewer points per game against teams that are all at least second in their respective regions with a combined overall record of 28-8 coming into this week have hung over the Eagles all year.
“That’s kind of been it,” Eagles co-head coach Bob Castillo said. “If you were to put a brand on what has been going on this year, that is it. We have been playing good teams close.”
Against Prescott and Mingus, the top two teams in the Grand Canyon Region, the Eagles fell by just three and four points respectively. An overtime loss to the Badgers and a comeback that came just too late against the Marauders are two losses that Castillo pointed to as major missed chances after each.
Flagstaff had some injuries against Mingus early, with starting linebacker Colton Bond getting hurt on the second play and star sophomore running back Luis Jaramillo battling a deep-thigh bruise all game -- keeping him from producing at his normal 122-yard-per-game pace.
Bond said at practice Wednesday he hopes to be ready for Friday's rivalry game against Coconino. And Jaramillo looked to be running at full strength.
Heartbreaks aside, now in the final week of the regular season, the Eagles' focus is turned to the No. 15 Coconino Panthers (6-3, 3-2 Grand Canyon) for the crosstown rivalry game.
The game has a different vibe than it has had in recent memory, with the matchup taking place at Coconino’s Cromer Stadium as opposed to the Walkup Skydome, and the Eagles are coming in as the underdog for what might be the first time in over 10 seasons.
The Eagles are even on the road this year at 2-2, two blowout wins and two blowout losses.
As for the game being at Cromer for the first time in 40 years, Castillo stands by what he said when the change of venues was announced at the start of the season.
“From the beginning we said we would play anywhere we are told to play because we are the visitors,” Castillo said. “We’re excited to play Coco. We think it's going to be an exciting night of football with a little chill in the air at an outdoor stadium.”
The Panthers have seen a resurgence under first-year head coach Mike Moran. It took Coconino just three weeks to surpass last season’s two-win total and Moran -- who had the Panthers boys basketball team go through a similar turnaround -- has the football team on the bubble of the 2018 playoffs.
“I give Mike a lot of credit with what he has done with this team,” Castillo said. “Obviously to be in the position to have a winning season says a lot for him and his coaching staff.”
Castillo said the Eagles are excited with the underdog status and the potential of playing spoiler, much like the Panthers did to the Eagles in last year’s 12-10 Coconino win.
Flagstaff will be facing another run-centered offense in the Panthers wing-t scheme bolstered by sophomore back Zach Bennett. The young back, much like the Eagles' young runner, has run for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.
In total, the Panthers offensive production has been 84 percent run.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Cromer Stadium.