Paul Moro’s success at Poston Butte HS not surprising

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                </div>  The experiment is pretty much over.  Blue Ridge High School up in the White Mountains wrapped up the final regular-season game on its football schedule last night, and Poston […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The experiment is pretty much over.  Blue Ridge High School up in the White Mountains wrapped up the final regular-season game on its football schedule last night, and Poston Butte High School in Florence will play its final game next week.

And, just as we had expected, success has followed Paul Moro to Florence, while Blue Ridge has stumbled forward without him.

Since just after the 2013 season wrapped up, when Moro left Blue Ridge after 30 years as its head coach to take over at Poston Butte this season, the questions that loomed large in the minds of fans were two-fold: 1) Could Moro, who won 13 state championships while turning Blue Ridge into the best small-school program in the state , work his magic at the struggling Division II program in Florence, and 2) Could Blue Ridge continue its dominance without him?

The answers are ‘yes’ and ‘no’.  So far, anyhow.

Moro started this season by winning seven of his first eight games, losing just the opener to Queen Creek High School, the No. 3 team in Division III.  But a surprising upset by Campo Verde High and yesterday’s 32-15 loss to Westwood High leaves his new team at 7-3.  Even that is a considerable accomplishment since he inherited a team that went 3-7 the year before, and 5-5 in 2012.

He knew he was in trouble last night when halftime rolled around and his Broncos were behind 20-9 to a team that was 9-1 overall and undefeated in Division II section play.  His defense was unable to contain a back-up quarterback and a junior running back, Ethan Johnson, who piled up 208 yards rushing.

And he knows his chances are iffy, at best, to finish out the regular season on a winning note since Poston Butte has to travel to Vail to take on 9-1 Cienega High School, the No. 5-ranked team in Division II that last night beat No. 4 Sahuaro High by 32 points.

But he has produced immediate results, rebounding from a 43-0 shutout in his first game at the helm of a new program and then building confidence in his new charges by leading them to seven straight victories.  And the 63-year-old Moro, who is one of only four Arizona high school coaches to win 300 games, will likely build upon that success to begin steering Poston Butte in the same direction he took Blue Ridge.

Meanwhile, Blue Ridge finished the season as a .500 team, something unheard of in years past.  The Yellowjackets were coming off a seasons in which they went 12-2 and won all four of their playoff games to capture the Division IV state championship.

When Moro left Lakeside, the school found it wasn’t going to be easy to find a coach willing to step into the shoes of a legend and deal with the scrutiny and pressure that would surely come with the job.  So instead of a big-name successor, administrators turned to 33-year-old Jake Belshe to take over the program.

Belshe went to high school in the White Mountain, but not at Blue Ridge, and had just finished up a season as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at a high school in Texas.  Before that, he served as the associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Westwind Prep in Phoenix, and had also logged a year as an assistant at the University of Texas-El Paso.

But this is Belshe’s first head-coaching job and not an easy way to break into the role.  It was a roll of the dice for Blue Ridge, and it won’t be fair to judge the results for at least another season.

And, to be fair, Belshe is trying to hold a program together that just lost the only coach it has known while also dealing with issues like declining enrollment, which translated to fewer students coming out for football, and another high school just a few miles down the road that is competing for his best athletes.  Show Low High School has won two state titles in the last seven years and played in four championship games.

It will take another season or two before we can accurately assess the lasting impact of Moro’s departure from a program he built into the best in the state – at any level. But right now, it doesn’t appear to be working in Blue Ridge’s favor.