The once-packed austere stadium tucked inside the tilt-up subdivisions of Vail whittled down to a pack of stray players and coaches last Friday night.
The straggling players and coaches from the two sides that battled on a brisk evening, in hometown Cienega and visiting Marana, shook hands and reminisced.
The dozen or so young men from Marana that stuck around after their team’s 49-28 season-ending defeat at the hands of the mighty Bobcats did their best to keep a positive outlook on what was a brutal night for the Tigers.
The loss, in combination with the defeats suffered by fellow northwest Tucson powers Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, Ironwood Ridge and Canyon del Oro put the kibosh on the 2018 football season.
It was a memorable run for each squad, with the Tigers jumping out to their first 4-0 start since the 1990s, while the Dorados made the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
The Nighthawks slogged through a brutally-tough opening stretch to win the 5A Southern region title, finishing the season with a respectable 6-5 record.
Each squad introduced the region to generational talents, including the venerable Trenton Bourguet at Marana.
Bourguet was majestic in the Tigers’ 21-point loss to Cienega, throwing for 338 yards and four touchdowns, while avoiding turning the ball over against a stout Bobcats defense.
The senior was able to break the 5A career passing touchdown record held by former Scottsdale Horizon quarterback Dalton Sneed, with the Marana gunslinger finishing his stellar career with 89 scores through the air (two better than Sneed).
The Lions were pummeled by Page on the road on Friday, falling 48-2 to cap off a 5-6 year. The future is bright for Jerry Harris’ squad, however, with sophomore running back Evan Lovett showing generational skills in the backfield.
The lanky running back had an amazing sophomore campaign, rushing for 1,192 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He should be even better over the next two years for the Lions, giving them a heck of a piece to build their offense around going forward.
The Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks’ season came to an end Friday, losing to Higley, 47-21 in the opening round of the 5A playoffs.
That shouldn’t discourage people from admiring the year that senior running back Nathan Grijalva put up in Oro Valley.
The steadfast back finished the year with 1,287 rushing yards and nine touchdowns for Matt Johnson’s squad, breaking the 100-yard plateau eight times in 11 games.
Fellow senior Andrew Cook had a phenomenal year at wide receiver for the Nighthawks, with 765 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns.
Cook and Grijalva should find their way onto a college gridiron next fall, given the talent they have in each facet of the game.
Lastly, the Canyon del Oro Dorados can hold their heads high after a stellar 7-4 season that introduced the region to the exploits of one Stevie Rocker.
Rocker might be the school’s best back since a fella named Ka’Deem Carey was taking snaps in the backfield at the northside school a few years ago.
The sophomore finished the season with 1,049 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite missing three games with an ankle injury.
Rocker could be the next big thing out of CDO, following in the footsteps of the aforementioned Carey and Blake Martinez to a Pac-12 program near in two years.
Carey finished his four-year career with 5,701 yards and 87 touchdowns, going on to become one of the best backs in University of Arizona football history. Martinez took his talents to Palo Alto, where he played in 30 games and made 255 tackles for then-Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh.
The latter is still playing in the NFL, taking snaps at linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, who drafted Martinez in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
We’ll have to wait and see whether any of the athletes that took the field this year can reach that level of excellence on the gridiron.
What we know, however, is that someone from northwest Tucson will grace the biggest stages of the sport, carrying the torch for Southern Arizona in college and/or the pros.
It may be an earlier end to the football season than some expected, but there’s no reason to hang your head.
The clock has started ticking toward the 2019 regular season, which kicks off in nine months. Here’s hoping we’ll see more of the highs we witnessed this fall, without the sorrow that a premature playoff exit can bring.