Christopher Wuensch, CWuensch@ExplorerNews.com
Dec. 14, 2005 - In the shadow of Arizona Stadium, home to the University of Arizona football team, they sat dejected, fighting back the tears.
The look on the 28 faces of the Oro Valley Dolphins Pee Wee team said more than words ever could about the pain of coming close enough to touch your dreams only to have them snatched away.
It was a similar look a dozen Dolphin opponents left the field with over the course of the season.
A championship in the American Youth Football national tournament wasn't meant to be for the Dolphins, who fell 24-8 in the title game of the Pee Wee Division 1-A, Dec. 10 to the Dale City (Va.) Buccaneers.
The Dolphins Pee Wees and Junior Pee Wees were among 80 football and cheer teams that competed in the American Youth Football Championships held at locations throughout the Tucson metro area Dec. 4 through 10. American Youth Football and Cheer is now the largest youth football league in the nation, bigger than its predecessor Pop Warner. The tournament was made up of teams from the organization's eight regions from the Southwest to New England.
The Dolphins (12-1) fell down early and were never able to regain the dominance that led them to the championship game. The Buccaneers scored three times in the first half on touchdown throws of 35, 32 and 36 yards, two of which were caught by Matthew Thomas, a 6-foot, 12-year-old affectionately dubbed "Man Child" by his own teammates and parents.
Opposing teams protested Thomas' eligibility three times throughout the tournament to no avail.
The Dolphins were able to mount a small comeback in the third quarter. Tiljman Harvey scored the lone Dolphin touchdown, bulldozing across the line for a four-yard touchdown run.
"It's strange, I don't feel bad at all," said Dolphin head coach Adam Watters. "We played for the national championship, you can't ask for more than that."
To get to the championship game, the Dolphins - comprised of 11 and 12 year olds from Cross and Coronado elementary schools - first had to get by the Nashuka (N.H.) Elks Crusaders 18-14 and the Lawndale (Calif.) Cardinals 26-7.
The game against Nashuka may have been the Dolphins' most exciting, if not the most harrowing. Down 14-12 with one minute, 30 seconds to go in the game, the Dolphins drove 80 yards in 30 seconds for the go-ahead score. The Elks Crusaders then took the ball down to the Dolphin 20 before throwing the game ending interception.
The Dolphin Pee Wees were broken into two squads: the Shark Squad and the Sting Ray Squad. The Sharks were made up of the younger kids and would play the first offensive series of every half. The only game of the year that the Sharks did not start resulted in overtime with a win, but messed up the team's karma, said Watters.
Not too much was disturbing the karma of the Dolphins throughout the year, who went 10-0 in the league and won their second straight Tucson City Championship.
The Dolphin Junior Pee Wee squad was able to advance to the semifinals before being knocked out of the tournament by the Mira Mesa Scripps Chargers 20-0. In its first game the Junior Pee Wees defeated the Meriden (Conn.) Raiders 7-6.