3A football takes center stage in Blue Ridge v. Show Low

This game doesn’t have the glitz and glamor of the earlier match-up between 5A-I Hamilton High School and cross-town rival, Chandler High School.  That one was billed as ‘THE Game‘ of the season, with somewhere near 9,000 fans at the game and a national television audience tuned in as well.

But tomorrow’s game between Blue Ridge and Show Low, both 3A high schools up in the White Mountains, has to be considered the biggest since the Hamilton-Chandler match-up.

Actually, this just might be the biggest game in the long-standing rivalry between the two schools, which are just miles apart and vie for bragging rights every year.  Blue Ridge is located in Lakeside.

Aw heck, tomorrow night’s game could even be considered one of the biggest ever in small-school football in the state of Arizona.

Here’s why:

Both teams are unbeaten.  Blue Ridge (7-0) is ranked No. 1 in 3A competition, Show Low (8-0) is No. 2.

Blue Ridge has been averaging 48 points a game and has allowed its opponents just 21 points – combined for all seven games.  Show Low is rolling at a 45.5 pts/game clip and twice has scored 50 or better.

Blue Ridge is flying high after a 54-7 romp over Payson High School.  Show Low has its motor revved up after stomping on Alchesay High School from White River, 38-7.

But that’s just the on-field part of the rivalry game this year.  Long before the opportunity to get on the field arrived, a bunch of gasoline was poured directly on the flames.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association had to sort through allegations made by Show Low in August that Blue Ridge had recruited running back, Jordan Morgan, to play for the Yellow Jackets.  Jordan led Valley Christian HS in Chandler to the 2A championship last season and was named the Small School Player of the Year.  He’ll play next year at University of California.

But wait, it gets better.

The coach accused of the recruiting violation was Dan Hawkins, a Blue Ridge assistant coach who used to be the head coach at… yep,  Show Low.

And, just to stoke the flames a little higher, Show Low hasn’t forgotten about the shot that Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro took last year, accusing Show Low head coach Randy Ricedorff of running up the score against Chinle HS by leaving his quarterback son, Rathen, in the game to be able to set a new national record for touchdown passes in a single game (nine).

Think there isn’t some bad blood there?

And let’s not forget that Show Low is looking for a little revenge since Blue Ridge beat the Cougars in last year’s 3A championship game, 41-21.

It took until mid-September for the AIA to rule that there was no recruiting involved and Morgan could play for Blue Ridge.  He promptly used the Payson game as his warm-up for Friday’s meeting with Show Low, carrying 10 times for 99 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

Rathen Ricedorff also strutted his stuff in Show Low’s last game, completing 16-of-20 passes for 373 yards.  The senior completes 70 percent of his passes and is averaging almost 300 yards a game in the air while putting up 34 TDs.  Last year, he set a 3A record with 41 passes for touchdowns – and has 34 so far this year.

Show Low thrives on the passing game, gobbling up 315 yards a game in the air and 146 on the ground. The running game revolves around the dual-threat Ricedorff, who has 219 yards so far, and senior fullback Dan Patterson with 253.

Ricedorff frequently finds one of his three top receivers.  Josh Weeks, who had four receptions against Alchesay for 166 yards, has accumulated 691 yards this season.  Jacob Ellsworth is not far behind, with 658 yards, and Trevar MacArthur has also broken the 600-yard plateau with 612.

The three touchdown passes that Weeks pulled in against Alchesay set a 3A record, as the junior now has 32 career touchdown receptions.  He has accumulated 110 receptions in high school for 2,441 total yards.

Blue Ridge, on the other hand, will get its points on the ground.  The Yellow Jackets average 363 yards a game rushing and just 81 passing.  The combined offensive attack has racked up 29 touchdowns this season.

A pair of seniors in the back field don’t get a lot of calls, but they’re productive when they do get the ball.  Chayse Russell, the running back, averages almost 14 yards a carry and the fullback, Alex Stebbins, gets nearly nine each time.

Quarterback, Nick Johnson, is the guy pulling the trigger.  The 6’2″ senior completes 64 percent of his passes.

Johnson has connected with eight different receivers throughout the seven straight wins, but Danny Groebner and Russell lead the pack.  Groebner has gained 144 yards on receptions and Russell is just a few yards behind with 140.

(Artwork: azhelmetproject.com)