It’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t a big high school football rivalry game among neighboring communities in the White Mountains of Arizona.
The biggest and baddest of those rivalries generally occurred toward the end of the schedule and almost always involved Show Low High School and Blue Ridge High. Blue Ridge is located in Lakeside, a short 15-minute drive from Show Low.
More than once, that annual meeting would be between two teams with undefeated records and a state title on the line.
There’s still a rivalry game that draws a full house of rabid fans from that same area, but the last couple of years it’s the game between Show Low and 3A conference rival Snowflake High School that is making a bid to become THE game of the year.
That game between the two schools, located just 19 miles apart, has always been a big draw, but now it is generating even more interest among football fans in the high country, where high school football is the glue that bonds the residents of these small communities.
Last year, Show Low beat Snowflake by eight points, 35-27, and this year did the same in a game that decided the 3A East Region championship. That 2015 loss to Show Low was the Cougars’ only loss in the regular season. This year, it happened again. Both teams came into last week’s game unbeaten and Snowflake left with its first loss and would have only needed to beat Blue Ridge in its final game to finish with a perfect season.
That sort of thing really fuels the fire of any rivalry.
Snowflake led at the half, 13-10, and then extended its lead to 20-10 as the second half started. So Show Low was forced to play catch-up throughout the second half and needed an 88-yard drive, engineered by senior quarterback Rhett Ricedorff, to pull ahead late in the fourth quarter for the 24-20 victory.
Snowflake’s senior wide receiver Tanner Willis had a big night, scoring two touchdowns in the losing effort.
The Blue Ridge vs. Show Low rivalry has lost the cache that prevailed while Paul Moro served as head coach. Moro spent 30 years guiding the Yellow Jackets’ program and built an aura of invincibility that teams like Show Low were eager to test each season.
Under Moro, Blue Ridge played in 16 state championships and won 13 of those. His record of 319 wins against just 52 losses is the stuff of legends.
But after winning the 2013 state championship, he stunned the community by leaving to take over the head-coaching job at Poston Butte High School down the hill in Florence.
The Blue Ridge program hasn’t been the same since.
Jake Belshe was an assistant at a Texas high school and was given his first job as head coach by the Blue Ridge administration. He lasted one season that finished with a 5-6 record before reportedly heading back to Texas. He did, however, beat Show Low that year in a high-scoring overtime win.
Bob London, who had been Moro’s line coach for 15 seasons, took over the program last year. The 2015 season started well as London won his first five games – but lost four of the final five to post a 7-4 season. Worse still, the Yellow Jackets lost to Show Low, 39-3.
This year, Blue Ridge is regressing and is sitting at 2-7, with the game against Snowflake tonight the final game of the season. And, again, they got beat by Show Low two weeks ago, this time 35-0.
It remains to be seen whether a Blue Ridge vs. Show Low match-up will ever become the event it used to be.
But in the meantime, there’s another really good rivalry game just down the road.