There’s nothing like the feeling of winning a state title. Except maybe winning your first state title. Skill, dedication, desire and good fortune must align. This year, so does the calendar.
Four East Valley high schools mark an anniversary in 2007 — their first Arizona Interscholastic Association-sanctioned football state championship.
It was 10 years ago for Chandler Seton Catholic, 20 years ago for Mesa Dobson, 30 years ago for Tempe McClintock and 40 years ago for Phoenix St. Mary’s.
McClintock and St. Mary’s have been there and won that again. Seton and Dobson have not.
Either way, they’ll always remember No. 1.
And the Tribune will help by looking back at the defining moments that brought these schools their first taste of glory.
1997 SETON CATHOLIC SENTINELS
Chandler Seton Catholic’s road to a title was the most arduous of this anniversary quartet.
Postseason was not a part of the Sentinels’ vocabulary in the 1980s. But the arrival of coach Joe Timpani, a new breed of players and a rising enrollment facilitated big changes at the little blue school.
Timpani’s first year (1993) was a 2-7 disaster. But then the freshman class that became the ’97 season seniors hit campus. In 1994, Seton improved to 4-6 and was the first Sentinels team that decade to reach postseason.
In 1995, the team went 9-2 and made the final four, following that up in 1996 with a 7-3 record and another playoff berth.
The ’97 season was the capper.
Early that year, Superior beat Seton 40-33. The night before that game, Seton standout fullback Mike Ballinger sprained an ankle playing volleyball, leaving the Sentinels without a major weapon.
“I saw him on crutches and it looked like he had a helmet attached to his ankle,” Timpani said.
No matter. With flanker James Scott, fullback Raja Audi and quarterback B.R. Koehnemann picking up the slack, the Sentinels were assured another crack at the Panthers, a team they faced five times in a 2 1/2-year stretch.
It was the night before Thanksgiving and Seton had played the late game of a 2A semifinal double-header the Friday before, giving it just four days rest instead of the usual six. But it didn’t matter.
“You could tell the first time Superior had the ball our kids were so focused they knew what play was coming,” Timpani said. “I’ve never seen players on the same page as much as they were that night.”
Seton used three Superior turnovers and two Koehneman-to-Scott TD connections to fashion a 41-19 win.
1987 DOBSON MUSTANGS
Mesa Dobson football was born in 1981, and the Mustangs immediately had their work cut out for them.
Sister schools Mesa, Mountain View and Westwood all had won state titles, so being a Mesa school brought great expectations.
Dobson qualified for the playoffs its second year (1982), but was eliminated in the first round. Postseason didn’t come calling again until 1987.
The Mustangs lost a nail-biter to Mountain View, then blew a big fourth-quarter lead to Mesa in Week 7.
“The kids got together and met on the field after the Mesa game,” Dobson coach Mike Clark said. “They decided that couldn’t happen again.”
It didn’t. Dobson won seven in a row, then mangled Tucson Santa Rita, Phoenix Moon Valley and Phoenix Brophy the first three weeks of the playoffs. In the final stood defending champ Mountain View, 3-0 in championship games.
“I remember when we walked on the field that afternoon you could feel the strength of the kids,” Clark said. “They weren’t intimidated.”
Dobson rolled to a 35-14 victory behind its running game: Josh Arnold, T.C. Wright and Greg Boland.
The trio rushed for a combined 276 yards. Arnold rushed for three touchdowns while Boland (97 yards) played with a shoulder popping in and out of the socket.
“The doctors told him it couldn’t get any worse,” Clark said. “He played through it. That’s representative of the kind of kids we had.”
1977 McCLINTOCK CHARGERS
Tempe McClintock wasted little time becoming a playoff fixture. Coach Karl Kiefer posted winning records in 11 of his first 12 years, but first- or second-round playoff losses were a bugaboo.
Then came 1977. The only perfect season in 42 years.
The Chargers had a few close calls during the regular season (7-0 over Mesa, 10-7 over Scottsdale and 16-14 over Chandler). Protecting a 10-0 regular season proved more difficult in the playoffs.
Some nontraditional classroom time helped.
“We had the kids attend a seminar during the season,” Kiefer said. “We made special time for it one week.
“It centered around staying positive and positive thinking. Nothing got that team down. Any adversity of any kind, they overcame it.”
The playoffs severely tested McClintock. In the first round, Casa Grande gave the Chargers all they wanted before falling, 10-7. McClintock’s best offensive player, David Hinds, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
In the quarterfinals, McClintock took on also-unbeaten Phoenix St. Mary’s. The Chargers controlled the trenches in that one and won, 24-7.
Then points got rare.
The Chargers tipped Phoenix Maryvale, 7-0, using fullback Todd Greer’s touchdown run as the difference. Next up was Phoenix Washington and standout quarterback Mike Pagel. Pagel was a passing machine, throwing for a then-unheard-of 1,800 yards.
Pagel went on to become a star at ASU and in the NFL.
Trailing 9-7 in the fourth quarter, the Chargers marched 75 yards on their final possession with Greer again finding pay dirt for a 14-9 triumph.
With Hinds out, Greer picked up the slack with 131 rushing yards, yet the defining play was a play-action pass on third down into the red zone for a first down.
“Winning that title made it easier for the kids that followed,” Kiefer said.
“We had the proof winning a state title could happen.”
1967 ST. MARY'S KNIGHTS
If Ed Doherty didn’t burn out, the coaching careers of Pat Farrell and Jim Ewan might never have started.
Doherty had been everywhere: An All-American player at Boston College and a coach in both college and the NFL. But the ulcers stemming from those jobs got to him, so he traded coaching for the insurance business.
A year later (1965), the insurance selling was a bust, and Doherty took the football job at Phoenix St. Mary’s.
“He had a football record that was unbelievable and therefore instant credibility upon arrival,” said Farrell, now in his 27th year coaching at St. Mary’s.
The Knights’ varsity squad went 1-10 in 1964, and that victory came against a team in Las Vegas. “No one saw it so no one knows if they really won,” said Ewan, now coaching at Chandler.
Soon after, however, the Knights’ ascension began. Kids trusted Doherty’s resume. He let them be kids.
When they replaced Doherty’s 33 RPM records of John Philip Sousa marches with Motown or R&B, Doherty let it slide. In return, they took to his three-hour meetings on Sundays.
Ewan said he was a senior safety “who couldn’t hit anyone,” while injury paved the way for Farrell, a sophomore, to become a neighboring starter in the secondary.
Farrell’s interception in the final two minutes against Phoenix Camelback preserved the Knights’ berth in the state championship game, where they beat Tucson Pueblo to cap a 13-0 season.
“I was a sophomore. If you could put your shoes on right it was a good day,” Farrell said.
The Knights won a second state title in 1968, then lost in the championship game in ’69.
When the Knights were looking for a coach in 1980, Doherty’s disciples, Farrell and Ewan, were the last two standing. Farrell won out, but they’ve both done just fine for themselves as two pieces cut from the same cloth.
“He was something special,” Farrell said of Doherty. “We didn’t realize it at the time. We obviously learned he was in his own territory as a football coach.”