KINGMAN – Following a 62-3 win over Arete Prep Friday night, the Kingman Academy High School football team loaded the bus at Southside Park and prepared to return to campus. Before that could happen, the final score for Paradise Honors at Tonopah Valley appeared on a coach’s phone and the Tigers were rushing off the bus as 2A Central Region champions.
“It’s the happiest feeling in the world,” said Academy senior Julian Lovato Cordero. “There was anxiety having to wait for it, but it’s pretty nice knowing that we’re region champs.”
Senior Zac Nietzke described the moment as surreal and compared it to something you see in a movie.
The Tigers experienced the joy of a fairy tale ending Friday night, which is something senior Joey Martin couldn’t put into words.
“It was scary because you’re depending on another team to determine your fate of whether you go or your season is over,” Martin said. “Once you’re a senior, it’s over. Most of us don’t get to play again. To find that out, it’s more rush of emotion than you could ever handle. It’s nothing that you can let out or keep in – it’s just there.”
Martin and 11 other seniors will get to continue their high school playing career when the No. 16 seed Tigers travel to face top-seeded Round Valley at 6 p.m. Saturday.
While the journey won’t be easy, the Academy accomplished the goal of a region championship and have its sights set even higher.
“It means everything to me,” said senior Kekoa Makaiwi-Stroup. “My goal was to be region champs and hopefully we can win a few more in the playoffs. Who knows where that goes?”
No matter how the Tigers (7-3) fare against the Elks (10-0), they can take away a lot from winning their first football region title.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Martin said. “Not a lot of teams get to do it. When you think about it – it’s pretty special, especially for your senior year and you’ve never been there. It’s going to be a long ride.”
The feeling is mutual for Seth Pitts and he knows how much this Academy team means to each other.
“This is my third year playing, but I feel like I’ve played every single year of high school,” Pitts said. “We’re that much of a family. We celebrate as a family and we lose as a family.”
Makaiwi-Stroup led the Academy in its win over Arete Prep, as he completed 10-of-20 for 254 yards and six touchdowns. Gabe Imus accounted for 120 yards and three scores, while Nate Perea finished with 69 yards and two touchdowns. Hayven Potter added 40 yards and a TD, followed by Tyler Balluff with 25 yards on one catch.
Stevie Wusstig led the Tigers with 42 yards rushing and two touchdowns and Makaiwi-Stroup finished with 30 yards on the ground.
Defensively, Tyler Wheeler tallied 11 tackles, followed by Balluff with eight stops and two interceptions. Martin added seven tackles, while Trevor Lowry had six and Michael Lacy notched five stops for the Academy. Jacob Kidd rounded out the top performers with an interception.
“We’re very blessed and fortunate that Paradise Honors did what they had to do,” said Tigers head coach Dan Stroup. “We’re thankful and we’re gracious that we did make it. We’ve been to the playoffs two of the four years and we’re able to secure our very first AIA region championship for football.”