If you see an 800 pound gorilla walking the streets of Coolidge these days, it came off the back of head football coach Carlo Hernandez. After three defeats in the championship game over the past four season's, the Bear of Coolidge laid to rest the critiques who said they couldn't win the big game, defeating Winslow 34-19 Saturday night in the 3A title game at McClintock high school.
Last year's defeat to
Winslow was appearing in their first title game since 1997 when head coach Adam Larsen was tearing up the competition. The Bulldogs had not won a football championship of any kind since 1964. They would rely on their senior quarterback Jordan Payne and lineback Mario Peralto.
Coolidge ran to a 14-0 lead in the first half, mostly on the quick feet of Wheeler and White. Wheeler sprinted around end for the first score and set up the second with a nifty run through the Bulldog defense. White scored the second from 10 yards out after the Wheeler run.
The Bulldogs got on the board, mainly on the legs of Payne. His dash around the left side set up his own touchdown, a three yarder that got Winslow to within 7. Payne wound up with 84 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Winslow threatened to tie it up at the half, driving deep into Bear territory when the Coolidge defense decided to stiffen up. Shavar McKaney dumped Payne for a loss on fourth down to end the drive. Coolidge up 14-7 at the half.
The Bears came out in the third and scored to go up 21-7. Casillas got the score this time. The senior ended with 71 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Then it was time for the biggest play of the game. On fourth down late in the third quarter, White lined up for what looked like a Coolidge punt. However, he tossed the ball to a wide open Aaron Jones for a big gain setting up another score, this time a pass from Wheeler to tight end Brad Jackson. Wheeler sealed the deal with an 85 yard return of a fumble. Two late scoring tosses from Payne to wide receiver Johnny Butler narrowed the gap. But on this day, it was Coolidge who would be Kings.
Look for Coolidge to rule the 3a again next season. All the key ingredients except Casillas are back, including super sophomore defensive linebacker Jovan Waggoner, who made several key plays in the game. With Wheeler, White, Jackson, McKaney, and linemen Ian Gillespie, Wyn Henderson, and Josh Thornton, the Bears are in good hands.
For Winslow, this was a tough loss. This was the year for the Bulldogs. Hopefully, the young players will look back on this game as a learning experience and move forward, much as the Coolidge players have done. In Larsen, they have an energetic, young coach who loves where he is and would like nothing better than to build the program into one that contends every year.