Prep football: Florence HS game offers lessons in life

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                </div>The fans that had gathered at the Florence High School football field Friday night must have felt like they were on an emotional roller coaster ride that just wouldn’t let […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The fans that had gathered at the Florence High School football field Friday night must have felt like they were on an emotional roller coaster ride that just wouldn’t let them off.

Even before they began arriving for the game with Combs High School, their week had been turned upside down when the Gophers’ 38-year-old head coach, Steve McKane, passed away unexpectedly after suffering an apparent heart attack.

The high spirits and festivity of Homecoming Week suddenly turned into a period of mourning.

The kids were playing the Combs game under the guidance of McKane’s father, Bill, just three days after the stunning announcement of their coach’s death.  The elder McKane, a former head coach at Mesa High School, had been helping his son out by serving as the team’s defensive coordinator.

A few weeks back, the Corona del Sol High School football players suddenly found themselves without a head coach when Tom Joseph was unexpectedly dismissed by the school district the day before its game with Mesquite High, leaving the team and parents in a state of shock and confusion.

But there was no comparison to what the Florence players were going through this past week.  This was life at its most basic level and put the approaching football game into a new perspective, one from which everyone could learn and grow.

With emotions already running high at the kickoff against Combs, the roller coaster was just beginning.

It looked like Florence (4-3) was going to post an emotional victory over the Coyotes (4-3) as the game clock wound down to the final minute of play with the Gophers holding a 20-17 lead.  But a 31-yard field goal by Alex Moyes tied the game with 35 second left in regulation to send it into overtime.

The roller coaster ride wasn’t over.

Then, after Moyes put the Coyotes ahead with another field goal, Florence got its chance with the ball.  It looked again like a victory when Beau Griego scampered into the end zone for the winning score and the stands erupted in celebration.  However, the apparent touchdown was called back on a holding call.

The ride continued.

A couple of plays later, fans held their breath as senior running back Ian Campos broke one tackle, and then another, as he bulled his way the final eight yards to the end zone for the winning score. And this time it stood.

Campos finished with 134 yards on 19 carries, which gives him 899 on the season and a likely bet to hit the 1,000-yard mark.

It was an incredibly emotional win for a group of boys that moved a little closer to manhood.  The 26-23 win kept the team’s playoff hopes alive, hopes that had begun to dim following the third loss of the season the week before; the team sorely needed this victory.  It was particularly important because Florence was ranked No. 4 in Section IV of Division IV, while Combs was No. 3 going into the game.

Bill McKane will continue on where his son left off, at least for now.  The school has named him to be the interim head coach to get the program through the remainder of the season – and hopefully into the playoffs.

After Friday’s game, he told a reporter for the Florence newspaper: “This is about the most special game I’ve ever participated in in my life.”

Just the fact that he was able to take on the task while deep in personal mourning says a lot about the man.  And, hopefully, that courage and character he showed was not lost on his young players.