The subject was Perry football team’s 2010 season mirroring its 2009 campaign. And unsolicited, the Pumas knew the word “but,” was coming. Some interjected the word themselves.
It’s no secret what happened to the Pumas at this time last year has had a frustrating, eye-opening effect on this team. After flying out of the gates in 2009 with a 4-0 start, the Pumas got themselves into trouble when a dozen players were suspended for violating team rules leading up to the homecoming game against Westwood.
The Pumas are still haunted by that 16-15 loss they felt should have been their victory.
“We definitely haven’t forgotten about it,” senior Andrew Jimenez said.
A brutal schedule followed (Chaparral, Marcos de Niza, Mountain Pointe, Desert Ridge) and the Pumas went into a 1-5 slide to end the regular season. With only five power points to spare, they hung on to the No. 16 seed in the 5A Division II playoffs, but all that meant was another ugly date with Chaparral in the first round.
“You get frustrated and let the lows get too low,” junior quarterback/defensive back Josh Uhlorn said. “The morale was down because losing was hard.”
It’s 2010, and the Pumas are again off to a 4-0 start heading into Friday’s game at Westwood, with Chaparral, Marcos de Niza, Mountain Pointe and Desert Ridge upcoming.
“We know what this is going to be like and what’s ahead,” Jimenez said. “We’ll be prepared.”
The optimism stems from a couple trains of thought.
First, the Pumas are heavy on upperclassmen (26 seniors) for the first time in the school’s brief history — a facet of leadership players cited as lacking last year.
Second, the Pumas like their depth. When the suspensions hit and some injuries followed, Perry had to bring up several JV players because the varsity-level reserves were in short supply, and Perry coach Preston Jones said some of those kids were playing football for the first time in their lives.
Third, having endured those growing pains of a grueling season, on and off the field, the Pumas made a couple minor tweaks to their routines. Jones gives the kids occasional Saturdays off, especially after long road trips on Fridays.
“It’s nice to sleep in,” Uhlorn said. “We’re better focused on doing the right things, whether it’s grades or not getting in trouble, and not being a distraction on and off the field.”
The long-term focus is “Week 11” or the first round of the playoffs. It’s an internal expectation the Pumas will not only get there, but they set a tangible goal of getting a top-eight seed in 5A-II to host a playoff game.
In their second year of full varsity competition, the Pumas notched their first two shutouts against 5A schools, have a dynamic running game with Cedric Simmons (161 yards per game), have 17 sacks and a highly-recruited 300-pound tackle who leads the team with two interceptions (Mo Latu).
The Pumas sat on pins and needles in 2009. Told they probably wouldn’t make the playoffs if they lost to Desert Ridge to end the regular season (D-Ridge won 31-28), the Pumas happily caught a break, only to be blown out by the Firebirds again.
There are no plans to re-enact such drama.
“We’re using (Friday) and every game as progress toward Week 11,” Jones said. “That’s when the next season starts. There’s no ‘not-going’ type of thinking, it’s either going to be a home or away game. Playoffs are expected.”