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Les Willsey

Staff Writer,

Morenci football savors chance at 1st title in 36 years

Nov 21, 2012

No. 2 seed Morenci's opportunity to claim the 2012 Division V football championship against No. 1 Northwest Christian come Friday afternoon isn't lost on Morenci head coach Frank Ogas.

"This doesn't happen every day," Ogas said earlier this week. "It's something we'll take to heart." 

Northwest Christian, in its own right, is a small community within a large city (Phoenix). The Crusaders are playing in their third championship game in as many seasons. But reaching this point even if it's become a bit of a habit -- isn't taken for granted. Certainly not by NWC coach Dave Inness.

"We're blessed to get another chance to play for this," Inness said, his team 1-1 in title games the last two years.

Morenci will play in its first championship game in 20 years -- the Wildcats last appearance came in 1992. They've won one football title in the school's history, taking down Page in the 3A title game in 1976. Morenci is small -- a mining town -- with real-world ups and downs. And those that live there take pride in big events.

Does Morenci vs. Northwest Christian qualify? A football game between schools whose most recent enrollment figures are about as even as can be as of  six weeks ago -- NWC 405 students and Morenci 401.

"It's a happening," Ogas said. "We talk often about our 12th man.The people we're playing for are the ones who are truly Wildcats.... We have alumni all over the world Two of the best are our offensive coordinator Michael "Tiny" Davis and our defensive coordinator Gary Sandoval .

Although it fell short of a title-game appearance, Nogales High and their community were stimulated by the emergence of the football team in the Division III playoffs. The Apaches were a No. 14 seed, adding to the drama of their bid. Morenci is D-V's No. 2 seed so the Wildcats were halfway expected to grace the field in the final at NAU's Walkup Skydome with that credential.

But small, blue-collar towns are often discounted -- regardless of a high-seed moniker. So Morenci was on the proving ground last Saturday when it edged No. 3 Tempe Prep (the only team to defeat NWC this season) in a game of vintage smashmouth football, 10-7. 

Running back Clay Ruedas, who played quarterback last week due to injury to starter Emilio Duran, is thankful and excited that he and his teammates have the opportunity to give to the community with a title-worth performance. 

"We lost in the quarterfinals last year," Ruedas said. "A lot of us went to spring football committed to winning it this year. I've grown up and played with a lot of these guys since fifth grade, so this is special for us to get this chance. I know (Morenci) is behind us."

As the season progressed and particularly as the playoffs commenced three weeks ago, the town of Morenci and alumni support has hit a fever pitch. A group of 16 seniors who have played together for four seasons with a 31-13 record has earned the faithful following.

"I can tell you our entire community is so proud," Ogas said. "It's going to be a high-intensity matchup. Our community will be there to support us. They are so excited. I'm expecting a great turnout."

Despite a short week of practice endured by all the D-V and D-IV teams  due to Thanksgiving and a Saturday-to-Friday turnaround, Ogas doesn't mind. His team will savor the time."

"We're going to have Thanksgiving dinner with our famililes on Wednesday afternoon," Ogas said. "We'll get up Thursday morning.  It will be like a regular school day. We'll leave Morenci at 8 a.m. and go the back way. Take a seven- to-seven-and-half hour bus ride We'll stop at Alpine, our second home and eat at the Bear Wallow Cafe, then head through Holbrook and on to Flagstaff. Then have a light workout Thursday afternoon and dinner together Thursday night. All of that and the game is worth looking forward toThere are memories for life to come this week."