Top-ranked Superior suffers first loss of season

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Superior Panthers

  Fresh off its move to the top spot in the 1A rankings, the Superior football team had its worst performance to date last Friday night. The result was a 43 – 16 loss at No. 2 Mogollon, the team the Panthers overtook for No. 1.

  Superior posted season-low totals in yardage and points scored while allowing a season-high in points allowed. It’s difficult to expect success using that formula.

  “We got off to a bad start,” Superior head coach Ryan Palmer told the Superior Sun. “We never really got on track and played our worst game of the season. (We have to) give Mogollon some credit for that.”

  “Mogollon is a tough team that plays hard and tackles extremely well,” he continued. “It dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”

  In what was sign of things to come, Superior mishandled the opening kickoff, forcing it to start at the shadow of its own endzone. Four plays later, the Panthers’ punt was blocked and the Mustangs took advantage, scoring on a two-yard dive to grab a way-too-quick 6 – 0 lead.

  “That set the tone for the rest of the night,” Palmer said about the sequence of plays at the start.

The Panthers’ defense, which had allowed a combined total of 38 points entering Friday’s game, including three-consecutive shutouts in September, missed too many tackles against the Mustangs, according to Palmer.

  The unit was missing a player or two due to injury and relied on inexperienced players to step in. Palmer refused to offer any of it as an excuse. Instead, he held his team accountable for its performance while crediting Mogollon as well.

  “We would have a player dead to rights in the gap and we would either miss or slide off the tackle,” said Palmer, adding that typical one-yard runs turned into touchdowns as a result. “Mogollon ran hard, but if (we) can’t tackle, (we) won’t win.”

  The Superior offense wasn’t immune to an off night either, as the 16 points scored on Friday night was more than 40 points less than its season average.

  Junior quarterback Steven Ybarra did throw a touchdown pass to senior receiver Cedric Mendoza, who later left the game with an injury. Jesus Castellanos accounted for the Panthers’ lone rushing touchdown. Ybarra finished 10-of-26 for 139 yards and was limited to 78 rushing yards, both yardage total well below his per-game average.

  The East Region Champion Panthers close out their regular season on Friday against NFL Yet Academy. It will be Senior Night as the Panthers look to finish the region portion of their schedule undefeated.

  Clearly, the Panthers lost to a good a team but arguably the greatest opponent they faced last Friday was themselves.

  “We must execute better,” Palmer answered when asked if last week’s performance had more to do with his own team or Mogollon. “We dropped 10 passes, couldn’t get a block or make a tackle all night, and had more holding calls against us then we have had all year.

  “Without strong fundamentals and discipline, it is hard to win any football game.”

  Getting their mojo back before the playoffs is also important. It shouldn’t be a problem for a team that’s been one of the best in the state.

  “Until last Friday, we had only lost two games in the last three years,” Palmer said. “Both were in the state semi-finals by a combined eight points.”

  “These kids haven’t experienced losing very much, and have never experienced a butt kicking like we just took,” Palmer added. “Hopefully it lights a fire and we come out humbled, hungry, and ready to work harder than ever.”

  Kickoff for this Friday’s regular-season finale is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Andy Luberda (995 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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