Superior will remain the home of the Copper Helmet for at least another year after the No. 2-ranked Panthers defeated rival and fifth-ranked Ray last Friday night, 44 – 0. The undefeated Panthers also clinched their third-straight Region Championship and the accompanying automatic state playoff berth.
The Copper Helmet is awarded to the winning team in one of the state’s longest-running rivalry games.
“It was a huge win for this team and the program,” Superior head coach Ryan Palmer said after the game. “We beat a rival and won the Copper Helmet for a third-consecutive year. Lots to be proud of and I am happy for these kids.”
Superior junior quarterback Steven Ybarra threw for 268 yard and three touchdowns on 17-of-26 passing. The Panthers’ signal caller was also his team’s leading rusher with 145 yards on 17 carries. In addition to his three touchdown passes, Ybarra ran for three more.
“I give credit to my offensive line,” Ybarra told the Superior Sun. “It gave me time to put the ball on the money for my receivers and it gave me the option to run if I wanted. I took advantage of that.”
Ybarra is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback, as he showed during Friday’s game.
“Ybarra is a great athlete and a tough kid who competes with a strong passion,” Palmer said. He is a dual-threat (and) that makes him tough to stop. He will run you over if you get in his way. He loves to hit and hit hard.”
Six different receivers caught passes in the win, led by Cedric Mendoza, who finished with seven receptions for 86 yards with a touchdown. Senior Marcos Bueno had four grabs for 84 yards and a touchdown. Jesus Castellanos, a junior, also hauled in one of Ybarra’s scoring tosses as well and ended the game with four catches for 57 yards.
Ray entered Friday’s game averaging 55 points per game in its four wins.
As it’s been all season, the Superior defense was stellar again, posting its third shutout in as many games.
In its three region victories, Superior has not surrendered a single point, outscoring its opponents 142 – 0 along the way. It allowed a lone first down against the Bearcats and limited them to negative yards of total offense.
“The defense was excellent,” Palmer said. “That is how good these kids are when they are fundamentally sound and work together as a team.”
Ybarra and freshman Adam Navarrette led the Panthers’ defense with six tackles apiece. Mendoza and Matthew Diaz-Gonzales each finished with five tackles, including one-and-a-half sacks apiece. Daniel McConnell, a sophomore, had two sacks.
Top-ranked Mogollon is next for Superior. Palmer is keenly aware of what’s at stake.
“The number-one seed in the state will be decided in Heber on Friday night,” Palmer said. “I am excited for these kids. Games like this are what high school football is all about.”
It’s been said that defense travels well. If the Panthers bring theirs on Friday night, they have a chance to do what Palmer believes most say his team can’t.
“Most people will have us the underdog and we wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said.
Those sound like the words of a confident head coach.
Kickoff for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m.