Change is hard. At Coolidge High School, change was learning how to lose. At Show Low, it was learning (again) about its leader.
While the journeys these two schools have taken are polar opposites, they’ve reached the same destination, today’s 3A state championship game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
This may be old hat to the Bears, who are playing in their sixth title game in seven years, but it hasn’t been without trying times.
Annual expectations have gone sky-high under coach Carlos Hernandez. So when the Bears (10-2) were thumped in late August by Blue Ridge and dropped to 0-2 , the catcalls came.
This wasn’t supposed to be surprising. The Bears essentially lost their offense to graduation, a group which led them to state championships in 2005 and 2006.
“We had to work, we went back learning how to practice with intensity,” Hernandez said. “Square one with everything we had to do.
“They were hearing but not listening that we were getting better. It wasn’t until the first victory the light came on.”
Nearly three months later, the Bears have a chance to three-peat.
Show Low (11-1) stands in the way after knocking off heavy favorite Blue Ridge last week.
Randy Ricedorff is the Yellowjackets’ fourth coach in four years. He came from Phoenix Trevor Browne after he played and served as an assistant at Mesa Westwood.
Though Blue Ridge was undefeated and shut out the Cougars in mid-October, Show Low was still geeked by its 17-7 upset that coaches had to have a talk with players Monday.
“We had to bring them down to earth,” Ricedorff said. “Our goal isn’t just to beat Blue Ridge, but to win a state championship. We have to prepare for another great game. I hope the kids realize that.”
To do so, they’ll have to contend with Coolidge’s running game, which features Brad Jackson (1,500 yard, 21 total TDs), whom Ricedorff called “probably the best running back in 3A.”
Hernandez countered with similar sentiment toward Show Low, a team which features multi-dimensional quarterback Jared MacArthur and all-purpose running back Styles Reidhead.
Both sides concurred it will be an exhibition of toughness and speed that make state championship tilts special.
As for change, both sidelines have gone through the unknown and survived to play one more because of it.
“It’s been an emotional, grueling, tiresome journey,” Hernandez said. “It’s a credit to the kids who stuck it out.”
Coolidge vs. Show Low
What: 3A state championship
When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson
TV: Cox Ch. 7