Sept. 8, 2004 - GAME OF THE WEEK: A pair of undefeated football teams will hit the gridiron Sept. 10 for an early season battle of size versus speed when Canyon del Oro heads to Amphitheater High School to take on the Panthers of Amphi.
Amphi and CDO will keep their rivalry going this year despite the move down to the 4A Conference from 5A by Amphi a year ago. CDO (1-0) will make the same move to 4A next season due to its waning student population. Who plays in what region won't matter Sept. 10, however, when the Dorados square off against the Panthers. One thing will be on the mind of CDO: reversing Amphi's (1-0) recent run of domination over the Dorados.
"We need to prove we can play with Amphi," said head CDO coach Pat Nugent. Last season CDO let Amphi off the hook by allowing the Panthers to score two late touchdowns to go ahead and steal the game from under the Dorados.
This season a veteran CDO squad will throw a different look at the Panthers, one, which if properly executed by the Dorados, will leave Amphi standing around and watching.
Nugent and the Dorados squad this year will revolve around team speed. What it lacks in size the Dorados make up for in quickness and aggressiveness.
That was evident in CDO's first win of the season against another Panther team, Phoenix Maryvale. En route to nearly doubling up the Panthers of Maryvale, 27-14, speed proved to be the deciding difference in making the game-breaking play. The big play for the Dorados came on special teams on a 95-yard kick-off return by Peter Romero.
Special teams and defense are the backbone of any team coached by Amphi head coach Vern Friedli and once again this season the Panthers appear to be strong on both fronts.
"Defense and kicking will win and lose you ball games," said Friedli, the all-time winningest coach at one school in the history of Arizona high school football. Even though defense comes first on any Friedli led team, the coach couldn't help but marvel at the success his backfield had in Amphi's opening night 35-6 win over Marana.
"We're very pleased with our running backs," Friedli said of his backs who didn't touch the ball as often as he would have liked but ran effectively when they did take a handoff. In the win over Marana, Amphi's Efe Okougbo torched the Tigers for 118 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries.
Friedli relishes in yet another chance to mix it up with the Dorados in what has traditionally been a hard fought series.
"It's always a banger of a ball game," said Friedli of the match up with CDO.
Although the high school football season is already three weeks deep, both the Dorados and the Panthers will be playing in just their second game of the year thanks to early season bye weeks.
Nugent and Friedli differ in their opinions of the bye week. CDO, which started its football season a week later than most Arizona high schools, did not benefit from the extra week.
"It hurt us because we needed to get going," said Nugent. Friedli takes a different approach to having a week off after their first game.
"I love it," said Friedli of the bye week. "It gives us a chance to work out our mistakes and get healthy."
The game Sept. 10 should go a long way toward determining what kind of team both Amphi and CDO will have this season. Both teams finished around .500 last season (CDO 5-5, Amphi 6-4) and believe they have what it takes to return to the playoffs after missing out last year.
For CDO, the question will be whether junior quarterback Ryan Lush has what it takes to lead a veteran Dorado squad after little playing time last season. Nugent likes the combination of arm strength and smarts he sees in the quarterback who served as a rarely used backup last year.
Amphi will be out to prove that the dismantling of Marana in week one wasn't a fluke. The test will be made more difficult by a CDO team that should add seven players this week to its lineup that, due to school suspensions and injuries, didn't suit up against Maryvale.