FLAGSTAFF — The two Trojans at the forefront of the 2A football championship picture earned this chance to sit.
On one side of the trophy was Chandler Valley Christian junior quarterback Jordan Morgan, although such a positional label would omit 60 percent of his abilities.
On the other side was Blake Argo, an All-State running back/linebacker who played through the playoffs with a fracture in his fibula, the second broken bone in his leg this season.
Valley Christian and Willcox fractured each other’s defenses Saturday, but two forced turnovers and a late-game trick play was good enough for Valley Christian to receive the golden football with a 41-32 victory at Northern Arizona University’s Walkup Skydome.
It was Valley Christian’s second state championship (2005). The Trojans lost the title game in 2006 and were knocked out in the semifinals by St. Johns in 2007 and ’08.
But they knocked out St. Johns last week in a heart-attack helper, and this one wore on players and fans just the same.
Valley Christian (12-1) began its season “Up the Hill” at the Skydome against Needles (Calif.). Saturday was preluded with each player already in bed before Friday night’s check at their hotel, and concluded with exhausted exaltation.
“I’m so gassed,” Jordan Morgan said while wobbling a bit to stand up. “It was so tiring, but it worked out for the better.”
Probably because he had 90 yards rushing and three touchdowns, 160 yards passing aided by a 58-yard touchdown to Drew Bond, and a school-record 68-yard punt, and he spent most of the day trying to chase down Willcox running back Rudy Verdugo with no success.
Despite an early 13-0 lead, the Trojans’ defense was punctured and pushed around by Willcox’s small-but-quick offensive line in front of Verdugo.
Verdugo eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards for the season, and then some. Whether it was a basic off-tackle play, sweep or right up the middle, Verdugo ran for a whopping 293 yards and four touchdowns for the Cowboys.
He scored on runs of 70, 29, 48 and 8 yards as the Trojans couldn’t tackle the hard-charging senior. The extra attention also allowed Willcox quarterback Gerald Fleming to run for 79 yards and a score.
The Cowboys (11-3) piled up 379 yards rushing, 100 yards more than any other team put up against the Trojans.
“We had chances to quit and didn’t,” said Willcox coach Jim Hughes following a turnaround from 2-8 in ’08 to a state title game. “I think fans got their money’s worth. I think they proved they could get here, and they showed they deserved to be here.”
Tyler Hunt had an interception, Dom Laws recovered a fumble, the special teams blocked two Willcox extra points and Morgan had the Valley Christian offense rolling on the ground and through the air.
That wasn’t enough for the first 45 minutes. After Willcox converted three third downs, a fourth-and-long and ended a seven-minute drive with Verdugo’s fourth touchdown run, Nick White pressured Fleming and knocked down the two-point conversion pass that would have tied the game at 34 with four minutes remaining.
Even with the lead, the Trojans went to trickery. In what seemed like attempts to run the clock down, Morgan handed off to Addison Bare, who flipped it to Kyle O’Brien on a reverse.
O’Brien (four catches, 39 yards) threw to a wide-open Morgan along the right hash mark, and he ran 72 yards before being shoved out of bounds.
“It was a no-brainer for me. I’ll never go into a (play-calling) shell, but my coaches looked at me like I was crazy, and maybe I was,” Trojans coach Bill Morgan said.
Three plays later, Morgan finished his second touchdown run from 5 yards away with three minutes left to seal the deal, and the team’s “Second Coming” motto finally arrived.
“They would not go away,” Bill Morgan said, “but neither did we.”