Cham-Panther-ship: Superior wins 1A Football Title

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Panthers win the championship! Photo by Phalicitee ‘Pinky’ Thomas

  The Superior football team won its first state championship since 1954 with a decisive 70 – 20 victory against upstart Hayden last Saturday night at Maricopa High School.

  It wasn’t quite the 108-year championship drought that long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans had to endure before winning the 2016 World Series, but 64 years was long enough between state titles for the Panthers and their fans. Capping an undefeated season with a championship was an added bonus.

  Following last week’s win over Mogollon, Superior head coach Ryan Palmer said “this group” of Panthers was going to win the title. It took four-straight trips to the semifinals and a second-consecutive appearance in the championship game for “this group” to achieve its long-awaited goal.

  It was worth the wait.

Steven Ybarra (30) carries the ball during the championship game. Photo by Phalicitee ‘Pinky’ Thomas

  “There have been a lot of kids that laid the foundation that (this year’s) kids have followed,” said Palmer, adding that bringing a state championship to Superior fulfilled a professional-career goal. “I couldn’t be prouder of the alumni but especially this group.

  “They were on this field one year ago, and we sat there and watched Williams hoist the trophy. We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s ours next year.’ We set a goal and I (outlined) what it was going to take to get there and asked if they could do it and they said, ‘Yes, sir.’”

  Not only did the Panthers do it, but they left no doubt.

  Superior’s soon-to-be-named Player of the Year Steven Ybarra, a senior, accounted for eight – that’s right, EIGHT – touchdowns in the first half, including six passing and two rushing, in addition to 443 of the Panthers’ 560 total yards. After a poor first half in the semis a week ago, Ybarra guided the Panthers to four first-quarter touchdowns and a 28 – 6 lead. He had a hand in four more scores before halftime, helping the Panthers to a lopsided 58 – 12 advantage.

  “(I) came out pumped,” Ybarra said about the difference between the starts of both games. “(We) really wanted it bad. We came too far to come short, so we knew we had to leave it out there.”

A Hayden defender goes vertical, just missing the Panther ball carrier. Photo by Phalicitee “Pinky” Thomas

  Seniors Jesus Castellanos (125) and Cedric Mendoza (160) combined for 285 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions – two apiece. Jared Moreno and Adam Navarrette hauled in Ybarra’s other touchdown throws. Ybarra finished 20-of-27 for 365 yards and had a team-high 78 rushing yards on 14 carries.

  “I couldn’t be prouder of that kid,” said Palmer, referring to Ybarra. “He really worked on his leadership this year and he led by example.

  “He’s probably one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached, and he’s a quarterback. That says a lot about him. He’s got such a strong will to win.”

  Hayden ended its own drought, appearing in a state championship game for the first time in 30 years. Lobos’ head coach John Estrada credited Superior afterwards, calling them an “elite team” that only “comes around once in a long while.”

  “Palmer did a heck of a job with his kids,” Estrada said. “Their stud, Ybarra, he led that team to a championship.”

 

Superior’s coach Ryan Palmer celebrates the Panther victory at the state tourney. Photo by Phalicitee ‘Pinky’ Thomas

Castellanos, who led the Panthers with nine receptions, shared his feelings – and likely those of his teammates – after winning the final 1A football game of the 2018 season.

  “It’s means the world to me (and) it’s one of the best feelings ever,” he said. “We knew we had to play for each other to be successful. We worked really hard all season for this moment and we finally got what we deserved.”

  Good things come to those who wait…and work for it.

Andy Luberda (1106 Posts)

Andrew Luberda began writing for Copper Area News Publishers (CANP) in February 2013 after working 15 years in Healthcare Financial Management. Andy covers sports for 11 high schools. His stories are published in Copper Basin News, San Manuel Miner and Superior Sun, in addition to the San Tan Valley Daily PRSS and CopperArea websites. Additionally, he has written human interest stories and business profiles. In May 2012, he earned an AAS in Sports Management at Central Arizona College before graduating with a BS in Communication from Arizona State University in 2014. He and his wife, Kelli, have three sons – AJ, Kyle, and Kade.


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