KINGMAN – As head coach Clint Sasse and his staff prepared the Lee Williams High School football team for tonight’s home game against Coconino, it was difficult to overlook how a new system has turned the once bottom-dweller Panthers into a threat in the 4A Grand Canyon Region.
“It’s always interesting to look at,” Sasse said. “You usually don’t see this much of a turnaround with a first-year new coach. But I think they run a simple offense that’s designed to score a lot of points. They play pretty conservative defense and try to keep them in front of you.”
No. 16 ranked Coconino still has work to do as a program, but they’ve already surpassed their win total from the last two years in the region. The Panthers only won one game each season and currently sit at 5-2 overall, 2-2 in the 4A Grand Canyon Region.
The 36th-ranked Vols, meanwhile, are still searching for their first region win in 2018 – but it’s worth noting they’ve won the last two meetings against Coconino.
But Lee Williams (2-5, 0-3) has a much different challenge this year.
“Coconino is a tough team – they run a pack-it-in offense and try to get to the edge,” Sasse said. “They have a lot of guys who get off the ball quick. We just have to do our best to limit their offense and get our ground game going and not beat ourselves on offense. That’s the biggest thing. If we can control our turnovers, field position and the clock a little bit, we’re going to have a great chance to win.”
The most important area of focus will be turnovers though, especially after the Vols had four interceptions in a 39-0 loss last week at Flagstaff.
“We’re going to come back as a team and we’re going to run the ball,” junior Luigi Garibaldi said. “Offensively we had our ups and downs. We have to eliminate turnovers. That’s one of our biggest things. That’s really it – if we fix turnovers and everyone does their job, we win games.”
In addition to not making mistakes, Lee Williams will have to find a way to stop a number of talented running backs.
Coconino’s Zach Bennett leads the charge with 978 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, while Dawson Buckley and Bailey McCauslin have combined for 524 yards and eight touchdowns.
But that trio is just the beginning as the Panthers have three more athletes with at least 100 yards rushing and one score.
“You can’t really focus on certain people because everyone is going to get the ball,” Garibaldi said. “That’s just the hardest thing about the offense they run. But I’m super excited to play against it and all my teammates are excited. It’s going to be a good game.”
Garibaldi and the Vols also know it will be important to make the correct reads on defense. Coconino will key in on any move in the wrong direction and that could lead to disaster.
“Offenses like this look for you to make the littlest mistake,” Sasse said. “Like I told some of the kids, ‘If they’re running left, they look for you to step the other way about six inches. Then they know they got you. You just have to get your reads and play fast.’ And assignment football – tackle the guy that comes to you.”