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Amphi coach laments lapse in rivalry with Canyon del Oro

Citizen Staff Writer



As the state’s all-time winningest high school football coach, Amphi’s Vern Friedli has plenty of victories he can look back on fondly.

To be precise, he has 309.

“But there isn’t a sweeter feeling we ever had than those bus rides down Oracle Road after upsetting CDO,” said Friedli, whose Panthers beat Canyon del Oro 22 times in Friedli’s 33 seasons of coaching at Amphi.

CDO has won the last five games between the two schools, including the past three in lopsided fashion, but it was still one of Tucson’s longest standing football rivalries.

That ended Tuesday when the 2009 football schedule was released. For the first time since 1968, Amphi and CDO won’t play football against each other.

“It’s a shame,” Friedli said.

While Amphi’s enrollment, and in turn student participation in football, has plummeted since Ironwood Ridge High opened earlier this decade, CDO has developed into one of the state’s top Class 4A programs.

“It was pretty heated my first couple years and Amphi just completely dominated the rivalry,” said former CDO coach Pat Nugent, who now coaches Pima Community College.

“I know that Ironwood Ridge opening really hurt Amphi and the fact of the matter is it just hasn’t been that much of a rivalry recently.”

Friedli acknowledges his program’s drop in numbers in recent years has hurt the program, pointing out there were eight starters on either Ironwood Ridge or CDO who attended middle school within Amphi High’s boundaries. That was before open enrollment allowed students to go to any one of the three schools in the Amphi district.

“You give us back eight starters last year and we’re a hell of a lot more competitive,” said Friedli, whose team went 6-5 and qualified for the 4A Division II playoffs. “But that’s not how it is anymore. Now, like we’ve always done, we’ll play the hand we’re dealt.”

Amphi returned to the playoffs in 2008, but its less-than-typical record in previous years began hurting CDO’s power ranking points, the system used to seed the state tournament that rewards teams for playing tough opponents.

The more wins your opponents have, the higher your power ranking.

In place of the annual CDO/Amphi game, CDO will play Ironwood Ridge. The two teams have only played three times, but it is one of the area’s best budding rivalries.

“Getting them to open things up, I can tell you the kids are already excited about that game,” CDO first-year coach Dustin Peace said.

While CDO/Amphi is no more for the season, that doesn’t mean there will be a shortage of strong matchups for the 2009 season among Tucson-area teams.

Here is a look at 15 games with intriguing storylines this fall:

Sabino at Sahuaro (Aug. 27)

Scott McKee’s first game as Sahuaro head coach will be tough. He faces a powerful Sabino team he starred for in the 1990s. Of course, that was long before Sabino beat Sahuaro by a combined 143-19 the past three seasons.

Ironwood Ridge at CDO (Aug. 28)

Ironwood Ridge and CDO are two of the best teams in Tucson and will be breaking in new head coaches in the season opener with Matt Johnson (Ironwood Ridge) and Dustin Peace (CDO). The teams have only played three times, but it’s hard not to call this one of the area’s best rivalries and the Dorados are still looking for payback for the Nighthawks beating them twice in 2006, including in the state playoffs.

CDO at Santa Rita (Sept. 4)

Two of Tucson’s best teams over the past two years go at it. Santa Rita coach Jeff Scurran coached at CDO from 1984-86.

Santa Rita at Sabino (Sept. 11)

Scurran returns as opposing coach at Sabino, where he was one of the state’s most dominant coaches in the 1990s, winning three state championships.

Salpointe at Ironwood Ridge (Sept. 25)

Salpointe took a perfect record into the Ironwood Ridge game in 2008 before the Nighthawks thumped the Lancers 41-14.

Scottsdale Saguaro at CDO (Oct. 2)

A rematch of the 2007 4A-I state title thriller. Saguaro has been as dominant as anyone in Arizona for three years, going 41-1 with three state titles. In its current 33-game win streak, nobody put a scare into Saguaro quite like CDO did at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2007, when Saguaro hit a game-winning field goal with two seconds remaining.

Salpointe at Chandler Hamilton (Oct. 9)

Salpointe trades in a series with one 5A-I powerhouse, Phoenix Brophy, for one with Chandler Hamilton, the state’s top college recruiting factory.

Amphi at Santa Rita (Oct. 16)

Anytime Friedli and Scurran go at it, it’s fun to watch. Amphi put one heck of a scare into the Eagles in 2008 and, short of a win, it’s hard to imagine anything that makes Friedli more happy than making Scurran sweat.

Cholla at Rio Rico (Oct. 16)

Both teams struggled through 0-10 seasons in 2008. While I don’t think it will happen again, it’s nice to know winless seasons for both won’t happen again in 2009.

Ironwood Ridge at Sunnyside (Oct. 23)

The two teams have played four times the past two seasons, splitting 2-2 and not having a game determined by more than a touchdown in the span. Sunnyside ended the Nighthawks’ season in the 2007 5A-II playoffs. Ironwood Ridge returned the favor in 2008.

Flowing Wells at Catalina Foothills (Oct. 23)

First-year Flowing Wells coach Mark Brunenkant returns to Foothills, where he coached the Falcons for nine of the program’s 15 seasons.

Sunnyside at Salpointe (Nov. 6)

With Salpointe slapped with a postseason ban next year because of recruiting violations, this will be the Lancers’ final game of the season, but it isn’t as if added motivation is needed.

Cienega at Sahuaro (Nov. 6)

Former Sahuaro coaches Nemer Hassey, the head coach at Cienega, and Chuck McCollum, an offensive line coach at Cienega, return to play the Cougars.

Palo Verde at Santa Rita (Nov. 6)

This game has determined the 4A Gila Region title the past two seasons. Even without Adam Hall at Palo Verde, it could be a big test for Santa Rita.

Sabino at CDO (Nov. 6)

In its first year in the 4A Sonoran Region, the Sabercats could be playing CDO for the region title. Aside from the region implications, sought-after college recruits Sabino’s Keanu Nelson and CDO’s Josh Robbins will be winding down their senior seasons.

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