COOLIDGE — For the third time in four seasons, Coolidge faced off against Queen Creek Benjamin Franklin. There was no mystery about what kind of team they would be up against. It was the same as it always has been. And yet, like Mariano Rivera’s cutter or the dry heat of an Arizona summer, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it.
Just like in those previous two meetings in 2018 and 2019, the 3A Bears (1-1) had no sustainable solution for the three-pronged running attack that the 4A Chargers (1-0) deploy every year. So while Coolidge was feeling great about itself after defeating Scottsdale Coronado 49-0 in its first game of the season, they’ll now need to find some answers after losing their second after falling 34-8 on Friday night.
“We just have to get more physical, that’s all it is,” said Coolidge coach Rodger Schenks. “When you play an offense like that, it’s what they do, and you have to stop it.”
The Chargers’ brand of football depends on a triple-wing formation that fools defenses because they never know which of three main running options will take the ball, and which way they will go. It creates a type of guessing game that eventually wears down opponents.
This year’s iteration of the Chargers’ three-headed monster consists of Garrett Jones, Dawson Smith and Mason Grant, and all three had a big impact on the game. Smith led the team for the night with 143 yards rushing and two massive touchdowns near the end of the half to put the game out of reach. Jones added 93 yards and a touchdown, and Grant 35 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the sound of it, the Coolidge defense actually held strong for much of the second half, making multiple stops and keeping the big plays at bay. They didn’t get any favors from their offense, however, which only ran five plays in the first quarter, and hardly moved the ball at all in the second. As a result, the Chargers kept getting the ball back quickly, giving them too many chances to break the Bears down.
“We have to play assignment football and do what we’re taught,” Schenks said. “It doesn’t matter what scheme we have, we have to roll with the guys that we have. It’s not the X’s and O’s, we just have to get better at what we’re doing and get more efficient.”
By the end of the half, the Bears appeared either exhausted or dejected, as in two consecutive plays, Smith broke off runs of 40 yards and 55 to make the halftime score 24-0.
Schenks ran an offense that put a lot of decision-making responsibilities on quarterback Connor Ferguson, who was tasked with reading the Chargers’ defense and choosing the best option on each play. The options were rarely great, however, as there always seemed to be a swarm around the ball. Ferguson finished the night throwing 10-15 for 58 yards.
“I’m asking a lot out of him, but he’s been with me three years and I know he’s an intelligent football player,” Schenks said. “He’ll get better at it with time.”
The Coolidge running game that dominated Coronado a week earlier was stifled for most of the game, only breaking free in the fourth quarter when the Chargers put in their second unit. Comar Jeffries led the Bears with 53 yards rushing, including the team’s only touchdown of the game, which came in the final minutes of the fourth when he powered through for a 5-yard run.
Week 1 star Tad Lynch didn’t find as much success on the ground, finishing with only 28 yards rushing, but he still had a notable game for his wide range of contributions. He caught two passes for 15 yards, but also had a sack and recovered a fumble at the Chargers’ 5-yard line that directly led to Jeffries’ touchdown.
There won’t be much time to linger on the loss, because Coolidge’s schedule only gets tougher from here. Next they travel close to the Mexican border to face powerhouse Yuma Catholic, one of the favorites to win the 3A championship this season. So far, they’ve only showed signs of dominance in starting 2-0.
“They’re probably one of the four best teams in the state right now,” Schenks said. “So I guess you get to spend the next couple hours feeling bad about the loss, but then you wake up and get ready to play Yuma Catholic.”