Coolidge ALA Queen Creek

The Coolidge Bears walk onto the field at American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek hand in hand for their regular season finale last Friday.

COOLIDGE — Playing an 11th game is never something a high school football team should take for granted. The Coolidge Bears know that all too well after ending what for them was a long postseason drought in 2018. To host that 11th game is even more special.

No. 8 Coolidge (8-2, 3-2 3A Central) gets a chance to do that Friday when it welcomes No. 9 American Leadership Academy-Gilbert North (6-4, 4-0 3A Metro East) to Larry Delbridge Stadium in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.

“Any time you get to host a playoff game, that’s awesome for the school and the community,” Coolidge coach Rodger Schenks said. “That’s what everyone fights for.”

He said the players have done a good job of putting the 55-0 blowout loss to American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek in the rearview mirror at practice this week. The players have been showing up for early morning film sessions and doing their homework to make sure they’re prepared.

And the Bears will have plenty to get ready for, as they face an Eagles team that is red hot entering the playoffs. They won their last four games, all by significant margins, and have welcomed back their star quarterback Jack Ricedorff from injury just in time.

“They’ve got a big quarterback with a big-time arm,” Schenks said. “So they’re gonna throw the football around everywhere, so we need to make sure our secondary is ready to go.”

Ricedorff, the latest person to make a name for himself in a family famous in Arizona high school football circles, played last week for the first time since Sept. 27. In only seven games, he has completed 124 of 189 passes (65.6%) for 12 touchdowns. However, he has racked up seven interceptions this year, something that could come into play against a Coolidge defense that likes to take advantage of mistakes and force turnovers.

But to be successful, the Bears have to be more effective than they were against ALA-Queen Creek quarterback Rand Jensen. Schenks said he’s been stressing execution the most, as the players need to have confidence in the plays they run and get to where they are supposed to be to prevent big plays.

As for making their own big plays, Coolidge continues to suffer from a major injury bug. A week after losing lead running back Greg Rodriguez for the year with a broken collarbone, wide receiver Tyler Tolley is out for the playoffs with a leg injury. Coolidge also hasn’t had speedy receiver Greg Reece since he broke his leg in the early stages of the season.

This leaves very few options at the skill positions, meaning quarterback Valentine Rodriguez and running back Comar Jeffries have to carry a heavy load if the Bears are going to score. Schenks expects the Eagles to load up the box to prevent the run.

“They’re gonna make us throw the ball,” he said. “They’re gonna put eight or nine guys on the ball.”

Despite being shorthanded, Schenks believes the guys available to play Friday are more than enough to win in the playoffs, as long as they don’t “play XBox or chase girls” and actually study film enough to know what they’re doing on every play Friday against a team they’ve never faced.

“When you are going against region opponents, you know what you’re going against,” he said. “Now you have to put in the study time to make sure you’re ready.”