Once worse for the wear, Seton Catholic’s football team now feels stronger for enduring the proverbial spanking.
Two years ago, a wide-eyed group of skinny sophomores were beaten in the first round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs by Goodyear Desert Edge. Last year, the Sentinels enjoyed their move to the new Division IV and ran roughshod through the regular season, followed by easy wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Then came the championship standard known as defending-champion Blue Ridge, and the Sentinels freely admitted to being taken behind the ol’ woodshed physically and with its speed. The Yellow Jackets beat Seton 45-14 in the semifinals.
“They hit us and we didn’t know what was going to happen,” senior receiver/defensive back Matt Haggerty said. “We were kind of lost.”
Here we go again, except this time it’s the championship game, and, this time, senior-laden Seton feels its better prepared.
Ten of the 11 seniors on this Sentinels squad were around for the previous physical punishments, and were keenly aware of the perception that Seton’s succes the past couple years was because they were “fortunate” to wind up in Division IV after being in the old 4A-II. On one level it meant the Sentinels lost the likes of Notre Dame, Queen Creek and Desert Edge from the schedule during this two-year block. On another level, it meant the leap from regular season to those perennial powers from the White Mountain left Seton unaccustomed to such an upgrade.
Players spoke of being aware of the outside perception, so perhaps the Sentinels showed both themselves and others as much in a come-from-behind win in the final five minutes against Cottonwood Mingus in the quarterfinals, followed by another eyebrow-raising 42-14 thrashing of Show Low in last weekend’s semifinals.
“That’s two in two weeks against some perennial big dogs,” Seton lineman Matt Hart said.
Though not without a speed bump or two, the quarterback platoon system between Ryan Bresnahan (the incumbent starter from 2011 who broke his hand in Week 3 and returned in the regular season finale) and David Gesicki has worked late in the season. Sentinels coach Rex Bowser has started one and then rotated them into the game, depending on whether one is playing particularly well. Bresnahan came up huge in the comeback win against Mingus (four TD passes), while both played well against Show Low.
“It (stinks) for them but it’s worked out great for the team,” receiver/kicker Daniel Garlid said. “Teams talk about having an advantage with a dual-threat quarterback, but we have two of them with David throwing and running, and (Bresnahan) who gets the ball out quick. They’re going to keep battling for (playing time).”
Seton knows what’s coming, mainly a healthy does of Blue Ridge’s running game and defense. Arizona State-commit Chans Cox figures to be extremely limited because of a fractured bone in his foot, but the Yellow Jackets have a 1,500-yard rusher in junior Nolan Cook, and a dual-threat quarterback in Skyler Hill.
A win in the high altitude against a juggernaut — Blue Ridge has won 27 consecutive games since falling in the 2010 championship game to Show Low) — would be Seton’s first state title since 1997 when it was a 2A school. The Sentinels were last here under current-coach Pete Wahlheim in 2003.
It would also complete a classic tale of the little kid being beaten up, only to keep coming back.
“It’s going to be physical for four quarters,” linebacker Greg Labenz said. “We’re going to keep getting back up and whoever makes a play or two will be left.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.