It's a little too early to call them must-win situations.
But there is a sense of urgency surrounding tonight's season football openers for Camp Verde and Sedona Red Rock high schools.
The Cowboys will host Mayer, a team they edged 13-7 a year ago. The Scorpions will entertain Williams, a squad they topped 23-20 to earn a state playoff berth a year ago.
A repeat of 2000 results would certainly be a boost for Camp Verde and Sedona teams, both of whom will face an uphill climb in their quest for 2001 playoff spots. With only two weeks to prepare for their West Region openers, there isn't a lot of room for error.
"It's real important to us," said Camp Verde coach Luke Steege. "You hate to say this is a must-win, but this is a team we need to beat just because we have a lot of young players."
Preseason scrimmages have given Steege and Sedona coach Jim Cromartie reason for optimism entering the new campaign. Both teams flexed their offensive muscles last Friday in separate exhibitions, scoring rushing and passing touchdowns.
Red Rock's defense kept its scrimmage foe, Greyhills Academy from Tuba City, out of the end zone during the duration of their two-hour meeting.
"Defensively, we had a great effort," Cromartie said. "We came out of it feeling good about where we are."
The Cowboys (4-5 a year ago) have talked often about airing it out more this fall. Steege has installed several new offensive formations and handed the keys to the Chase Armstrong. The junior quarterback tossed a pair of TD strikes against Winslow in last week's scrimmage to earn the starter's job.
When Armstrong looks downfield he should see Brandon Ream running above the crowd. The senior tight end stands at a menacing 6-6. Sophomore Charlie Baca and junior David McDonald caught TD passes at Winslow. That duo, plus Travis Dixon, will be other prime targets.
Don't be surprised if Camp Verde gravitates back toward the running game as the season progresses. They've got a great back in McDonald, who galloped for four TDs in the first two games a year ago before injuring his leg. Joe Jasman, a bullish 225-pound fullback, should keep defenses from keying too much on McDonald and other halfbacks.
Beau Franklin, Travis Chavez, Chance Hauser, Jeremy Butler and Terrance Lucero comprise the corps of the Cowboys line. Players like Baca, Matt Curtis and Ryan Anderson will be key on both sides of the ball.
Mayer, which plays in the 2A Canyon Region, only won two games a year ago and welcomes a new coach, Greg Davis. The former offensive coordinator for Scottsdale Christian inherits a Wildcat team strong on the defensive end.
Robbie McRoberts (6-3, 195 pounds) keys the Mayer D-Line with help in the secondary from speedsters Jimmy Harding and Austin Jackson.
The Wildcats' starting QB from last year, Stephen Soriano, returns for his junior season but may share signal calling duties with senior Joe Bassett, who transferred from Bradshaw Mountain. Harding and Jackson will pace the Mayer rushing attack.
"They've got some weapons," Steege said. "But I'm confident we can beat them."
Sedona Red Rock
The Scorpions (3-6-1 in 2000) made school history last October, beating Williams for the first time. Sedona lost a couple weapons from that team to graduation, like fullback/linebacker Mike Ayers (who scored the winning TD) and receiver Mike Scagnelli (who picked off a pass late).
But Cromartie enters the rematch with his quill still brimming with offensive arrows.
Quarterback Johnny Cunningham will lead the show. The junior is good fit for Cromartie's option game, being able to throw the long ball or take off running.
When Cunningham pitches or hands off, he'll have two speedsters to give the ball to. Shawn Koupal and Brian Sanders both recorded long runs in the Scorpions' scrimmage last week.
Fritz Nugent headlines a talented receiving corps. Tight ends Tyson Liebe and Preston Tribble also have big-play capabilities when they get loose in the open field.
Cesar Felix keys the front line troops, along with Matt Petelle, Keith Terry, Elliot DiBattista and Nathan Dorfman. Sanders, last year's defensive MVP, will again seek to be a force in the defensive secondary.
Like Sedona, Williams enters the season with a young program. The Vikings, coached by Rick Shipley, have two talented quarterbacks, probable starter Chris Loxterman and Jon Garcia.
Gil Pacheco tallied a pair of touchdowns in a scrimmage with Scottsdale Christian last week, one on a 24-yard pass play and the other on a 45-yard interception return.
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