Submitted by Denair High School
There is nothing like the stark reality of a scoreboard on a Friday night to underscore the importance of the lessons taught at practice the previous four days.
“Mariposa 26, Denair 0” stared at the Coyotes as they walked off the field at halftime last week at Jack Lytton Stadium.
Coach Anthony Armas’ young squad has had a difficult year. One of his mantras week after week is that Denair must learn to play with more “physicality.” Often, the Coyotes have been unable to consistently stand up to the strength and dominance of the opposition.
It happened again Friday. Mariposa was the stronger team – and it showed in the first half. The Grizzlies’ bigger linemen mauled the Coyotes on both sides of the ball, controlling the line of scrimmage and the tempo of the game.
Denair had little margin for error, such as a fumble inside the 10-yard line in the first quarter when the Coyotes had a chance to score.
“They’re pretty physical,” Armas said of Mariposa. “I think some of our kids were a little surprised; I’m not sure why. It’s been like this almost every week. … It’s like it took us a half to wake up.”
To their credit, the Coyotes played much better in the second half.
Steffin Winston returned the opening kickoff for Denair’s first touchdown. Later, he ripped off a 42-yard TD run, followed by a 29-yard scoring dash by Hunter Musgrave in the fourth quarter.
That narrowed the gap to 33-23 Mariposa, but it was as close as Denair got. Mariposa returned an interception for a touchdown late in the game to seal its 40-23 Southern League victory.
The loss was the fourth in a row for Denair (2-7 overall, 1-5 in the SL). There is one game left and nothing approaching the excitement of last year’s improbable playoff run that Coyotes fans won’t soon forget.
And even as the five senior football players – plus the seniors in the band and on the cheerleading squad – were honored before their final home game Friday, Armas has tried to keep the season in perspective.
“We’re really trying to develop the younger kids for the future,” said the second-year coach. “Our linebackers are really young. One of them never has played the position before and we’re trying to teach them the right way.”
The learning curve has been steep, as Mariposa reminded Denair. The Grizzlies (4-5, 3-4) won’t make the playoffs, but still proved to be the better team.
“I was proud of how our kids played in the second half,” Armas said. “It was 33-7 at one point. We got it within 10 and then we threw a pick 6 late.”
Even as the final week approaches, the coach said his message won’t change — though the methods might.
“I hope to have a little bit of fun with the kids,” Armas said. “We’ll try to keep it light, especially for our seniors playing their last game.”
Junior varsity game: Denair lost to Mariposa. The Coyotes are 2-3 in league play and 3-4 overall.
This week: Denair visits Waterford. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. The Wildcats (3-6, 2-4) are coming off a 25-6 loss to Gustine. Like most SL opponents, Armas said Waterford is physical – especially on defense. “They bring the house. That’s kind of their deal,” he said. “They’re going to punch us in the mouth. … I think our guys understand that by now. It’s just knowing our assignments and being comfortable with our assignments, knowing what they’re going to do. … They know if we can pick it up the blitzes, it’s going to go for long touchdowns, like we did against Delhi three times.”