KINGMAN - Sandy Anderson hadn't been to a football game at any level for as long as she can remember. Perhaps since her years at Kingman High School, and don't ask.
So she picked a good one to attend Friday night, traveling from Flagstaff with her husband, Larry, to watch Lee Williams High School knock off cross-town rival Kingman Academy, 14-8, in overtime on the Volunteers' home field.
She sat with her family in end-zone bleachers reserved for special guests.
Anderson knows one of the players from Kingman Academy, senior lineman Colton Bradley, but was rooting for Lee Williams. Her father, Bill Casson, was among the 11 firefighters who died in 1973 and gave the Volunteers their name.
"We came here because they honored the Volunteers," she said. "It's good. I see a lot of camaraderie here."
With Kingman High School's football program struggling to regain its prominence from decades ago, Lee Williams and the Academy have emerged as local powers in a budding rivalry between two schools with three years of combined AIA varsity experience.
"It's not like college, but as far as this community goes, it's up there," said Donny Witt, a Kingman High graduate whose daughter is a cheerleader at Kingman Academy. "They're (Lee Williams) one of the biggest games of the year."
Witt predicted a close game and he was right. He didn't see a big spread on either side.
Friday's game was the first in many years that a local high school had AIA playoff implications on the line in the final game of the season. Both teams advanced to the playoffs, with Lee Williams (7-3 overall, 3-2 section) traveling to Round Valley on Friday and Kingman Academy (6-4, 3-3) headed for Tempe Prep.
The game drew about 1,500 people on Halloween night, and the visitors' side was standing room only.
"I'm excited for all of Kingman," Academy first-year coach Dan Stroup said Saturday. "It was good energy and a playoff atmosphere. We have the disappointment of last night, but we still saw a chance (at making the playoffs) because of who we played - Yuma Catholic, Joy Christian, Parker."
Stroup said the first call he received Saturday morning was from Lee Williams coach Eugene Kramer congratulating the team for making the playoffs.
"When we play each other, we're out to win and they're out to win. But when we're not playing each other, we support each other and support their program," Stroup said.
Kramer spent a couple of years at Kingman Academy, taking the Tigers to the eight-man state championship in 2010.
"I think it's great for the community to have such a fun game," Kramer said in his office by the weight room at Lee Williams High. "It's a good rivalry and there's some rewards at the end of the tunnel for the winner. It's neat to have that back in this town."
It almost brings back the glory days of the late 1990s when the Kingman High Bulldogs would play the "big boys" from Phoenix, Kramer said.
These two teams are in their infancy as AIA varsity football programs and growing bigger and stronger by the year.
Kingman Academy, founded in 1995 as one of 12 charter schools in Arizona, was playing eight-man football in the lower Charter Athletic Association until 2012. Last year was the Tigers' first season at the AIA varsity level.
"I had a good feeling about this program coming in," Stroup said. "They advanced to AIA playoffs in baseball and basketball in their first year and that was quite shocking for people who think about CAA."
Stroup, who coached high school and junior college football for 27 years in California, said his first goal at Academy was to recruit skilled athletes from other sports. Thirteen of the Tigers' seniors are playing their first year of football, including Chris Pfeiffer (WR, DE), Breyden Potter (TE, DT), Robby Glass (WR, DB) and Josh Allen (DT).
It's a rarity to see a three-sport letterman in high school these days. Even though Kingman Academy doesn't have a large student body (about 420), the school has good athletes, Stroup said.
"We need all the guys that are athletes out for different sports," he said.
The Volunteers of Lee Williams are in their second year of varsity football and have no seniors on their roster. Juniors Dallas Morgan and Jason Ruiz lead a strong rushing attack and the passing game is improving under junior quarterback Braxton Burgess.
Three of Lee Williams' better players are coaches' sons. Junior Landon Kramer (WR, DE) is the head coach's son; junior Kaleb Smith (OL, DL) is the son of offensive coach Ray Smith, a former head coach at Kingman High; and freshman Kael Juelfs (LB) is the son of defensive coach Joe Juelfs.
"I think we've come a long way in our maturity," coach Kramer said. "Last week (21-19 loss to Williams) I saw for the first time how we're without senior leadership. But overall, we've come a long ways. We're just not there yet."
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