November 12, 2004

McClintock defensive end Wesley Sells was chatting with a few girls before Wednesday’s practice.

"What’s up?" one asked Sells.

"Just getting ready for the playoffs," Sells said. "You know, same as every year. No big deal."

Sells was joking. The playoffs are a big deal. McClintock hasn’t been there since 2001, and the way the Chargers started the season, nobody figured they’d be travelling to Peoria Centennial when the 4A postseason opens tonight.

McClintock began the year with three straight losses at the hands of Tempe, Glendale Cactus and Flagstaff, leaving little margin for error the rest of the way.

"Starting off 0-3 might have been the best thing for this team," McClintock coach Steve Campbell said. "The guys realized we better start playing as a team instead of individuals."

That was the topic of a players-only meeting after the team dropped a 27-7 decision to Flagstaff in Week 3.

"Nobody was willing to depend on someone else to make a play. They’d just try to do it themselves," quarterback Gavin Lemusu said. "In that meeting we finally said, ‘We can’t go any further without playing together.’ ’’

The Chargers now wear chains around their necks when they come to school, symbolizing the team’s unity and interdependence on one another.

"Our team motto is "We’re only as good as the weakest link,’ " Lemusu said.

Since Week 3 the Chargers have been nearly unbreakable. The club knocked off Phoenix Thunderbird and Phoenix Sunnyslope to help finish the season 6-1. After a pair of down years, the Chargers appear finally to be repairing a storied tradition.

The offense is averaging 27 points over the past seven games and the defense pitched a shutout against Phoenix Washington in the season finale.

"I could cite individual stats that would look pretty good," said Campbell, in explaining his team’s about-face, "but it was an attitude adjustment more than a physical adjustment that really got us going."

McClintock’s reward for such a strong finish is unbeaten, top-seeded Centennial, a team that has waltzed through the 4A season nearly unchallenged.

But when you’ve been to the brink, Sells said, no challenge is too great.

"Our losses to Cactus and Moon Valley and Flagstaff prepared us for this game," Sells said. "We were in all of those games, but we just couldn’t quite get it all together.

"Playing the way we have been, we believe we can beat anybody now. Centennial is a great team, but we feel good about our chances."

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