Citizen Staff Writer
COTTONWOOD MINGUS 28 AMPHI 20
It’s hard to imagine any of Vern Friedli’s record 309 career coaching victories triggered more pride than Friday’s 28-20 home loss to Cottonwood Mingus in the opening round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs.
Under the 72-year-old Friedli, Amphi went to the playoffs 24 times between his being hired in 1976 and the 2001 season, but just once since.
Critics’ whispers grew louder in recent years, especially after an 0-10 2005 season and a 3-7 2007 season.
But a 6-4 regular season record, including a win over 4A-I power Sabino and near upsets of 4A-II powers Santa Rita and Palo Verde, have people remembering the Amphi days of yesteryear.
“We’re starting Amphi football again,” said linebacker/fullback Ron Huff, who was brought to tears after playing his final high school game. “Amphi football is back and it’s not going anywhere this time. I’m glad I was a part of this.”
With the exception of the opening and closing minutes of the game, Friedli’s Panthers played classic smash-mouth, wishbone Amphi football.
A fumble stalled Amphi’s opening drive, setting up Mingus’ first touchdown, a 20-yard pass from Tony Vocca to Robert Ortiz. That put the 2007 4A-II runner-up ahead 7-0 with 4:20 left in the first quarter. It was the first of three Ortiz touchdowns: two rushing, one receiving.
Amphi’s wishbone offense racked up 384 yards rushing with Damian Henry (146), Chris Johnson (129) and Zach Roth (104) doing most of the damage. Johnson followed a 6-yard second quarter score with a 59-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“(Coach called) 27 Daylight and I saw the daylight,” Johnson said of his run through a gaping hole on the left side of the line of scrimmage. “I saw daylight and just started running – never looked back.”
Henry added a 59-yard touchdown in the fourth to pull Amphi within 21-20.
Vocca left the game with 3:22 remaining with an injured knee. His status for next week’s quarterfinal against top-ranked Scottsdale Notre Dame is uncertain.
After Mingus tacked on a late touchdown for a 28-20 lead, the run-first Amphi offense was left trying to pass in the final minute, ending its season with four-straight incomplete passes.
Despite the un-Amphi-like conclusion to the season, the team’s return to the playoffs had Friedli beaming as he walked into his team’s locker room after the game.
“Sweet,” Friedli said when asked what he thought of this year’s team. “Damn right. Panthers football is back.”