Campo Verde football coach Max Ragsdale was hesitant to predict the outcome of the 2019 season when his team began padded practices in August.
With as many as 16 new starters on both sides of the ball, they were thought of as a team who lacked too much experience to make the playoffs, let alone a deep run. But the narrative quickly changed as the Coyotes won their first seven games of the season and were ranked in the first two Open Division rankings.
Despite ending the regular season on a three-game skid, Campo Verde flipped a switch in the postseason.
“We always worry about ourselves and try to get better every day,” Campo Verde coach Max Ragsdale said. “These kids have been resilient. They’ve never really had a doe-eyed moment. They just do what they do. I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Coyotes defeated McClintock in the first round of the playoffs, followed by a come-from-behind win over Higley in the quarterfinals to avenge a loss on Oct. 18. Last week in the semifinals, Campo Verde shut down the high-powered Notre Dame offense that had been to the 5A title game the last two seasons. The Coyotes defeated the Saints 20-17.
Now for the first time in program history, Campo Verde will contend for a state title with a chance to avenge yet another loss earlier in the season against top-ranked Williams Field.
“We got our shot at the big one at Sun Devil Stadium,” Ragsdale said. “And against Williams Field, this team might have a chance to rectify a wrong.”
Campo Verde’s run to the title game this season comes after years of trying to keep pace with other teams in the 5A San Tan Region.
The Coyotes’ first season at the varsity level was in 2011, two years after the football program was started by Ragsdale. They made the playoffs in their first four seasons at the varsity level but then were left out in 2015-16.
They returned to the playoffs the next two years but again, never made it past the first round. Ragsdale was content with making it to the semifinals this season, as it alone put this year’s team in the record books for the best season in school history. But this group of seniors, “team 9,” had bigger aspirations.
“It’s been a grind,” senior quarterback Zach Herrera said. “We’ve been working so hard toward this and this team deserves it. It means a lot.”
Since ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak, Campo Verde has been firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball. Led by the connection between Herrera and senior wideouts Danny McFarland and Ryan Hutchens, the Coyotes have picked up their offense both through the air and on the ground.
Junior running back Caden Calloway had 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns heading into the semifinal game but suffered a lower leg injury. Should he not be able to play in the championship, it opens the door for his sophomore brother, Connor, to lead the Campo Verde backfield.
On defense, Campo Verde has also been impressive. The Coyotes shut down Higley’s offense in the second half to come from behind and advance to the semifinals. Against Notre Dame Prep last week, the Coyotes held a high-powered Saints offense to just 17 points.
Most, if not all of the Campo Verde community is expected to fill Sun Devil Stadium on Dec. 6 when the Coyotes face Williams Field, a powerhouse in the 5A San Tan Region who won the 5A title in 2016 over West Valley power Centennial.
“I can’t wait to see what we do in two weeks,” Hutchens said. “This has been the most amazing experience of my life.”