There’s a train of thought that a coach can learn more about his players in the sour taste of defeat than in the glory of victory.
Such is the case Pusch Ridge Christian Academy football coach Jerry Harris, whose Lions battled admirably for 48 minutes against mighty Casteel High School of Gilbert in Saturday’s Division 3A title game.
The Lions, despite an unblemished 13-0 record, were licking their wounds, with a roster ravaged by injury, in the lone division that does not have a bye week between the semifinal and final rounds of the playoffs.
The Lions looked sublime early in Saturday’s clash of undefeated goliaths, marching down the field with relative ease in the game’s opening half.
The Colts did not waver, however, matching the Lions on a blistering evening, before taking a seven-point lead into the half.
The two heavyweights slugged it out in a scoreless third quarter, before the Lions finally regained equilibrium—28-28, in the game’s final stanza, on a one-yard run by do-it-all senior Tamerat McLeod.
The Colts had one final shot at victory, however, driving the ball methodically down the field at Campo Verde High School, before junior running back Mack Johnson delivered the game’s knockout punch, finding paydirt from four yards out, giving Casteel a 35-28 victory.
It was the final score of a wild, back-and-forth affair, dashing the Lions’ hope of winning their second state title in three years.
For Harris, however, it was a sign of the fight and never-say-die mentality that propelled his team through a historic season—earning the top seed, despite having 31 players total, 18 of whom are varsity-only members.
“They absolutely played their hearts out,” Harris said. “They played till the bitter end and they left everything they had out there on the field, which is all that you can ask for as a coach.”
The star of the night for Harris’ team was senior Mitch Maas—who hauled in four catches for a game-high 94 yards and a touchdown, while also picking up 28 yards on the ground, with a rushing score for the Lions.
Maas also grabbed his fifth interception of the year on Saturday, capping off a memorable night for the senior.
Harris praised the effort of Maas and the 12 other seniors that took the field on Saturday, thanking the group for leaving an indelible mark on the program.
“What most people will never know or understand about that group is that obviously they’re pretty darn good football players, and the better news is that they’re better human beings,” Harris said. “So, five or 10 years down the road, as those men become husbands and fathers, and go out into industry, the world’s going to be a better place because of those 13 young men.”
Band of brothers
Senior quarterback and team captain Christian Fetsis—who threw for 145 yards and a touchdown in the battle against Casteel, is proud of the effort turned in by the Lions on Saturday.
“I think our team played a great game overall,” Fetsis said. “Our defense created some turnovers, and offensively, we capitalized on those occasions.”
Fetsis said he’s honored to have toed the line with the 30 other young men that donned the Lions insignia this fall.
He knows that the collective will stay close in the future, and remember the highs and lows that come with sports.
“I’m so proud of our guys, though,” He said. “We left everything that we had on the field. I couldn’t ask for a better group of brothers.”