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Cibola seeking some firsts in football one game at a time

October 21, 2010 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365


Earlier in October Cibola football coach Lucky Arvizo claimed a 20-14 win over then-ranked and then-unbeaten Basha by his Raiders was the biggest triumph in school history.

This wasn't a coach getting excited over the moment. A Yuma school winning several games in a season or a couple more than it loses is news.

"They (players) were excited about playing Basha," Arvizo said. "Most if not all the teams we play from the Valley are bigger, faster and more athletic than we are. Winning that game gave us a lot of confidence. But the key to our season has been playing well together each week. Depending on each other. Being unselfish. It's something we've done consistently."

Cibola brings a 7-0 overall record and 2-0 mark in the Gila Valley Region to its game at home on Friday against Lake Havasu (6-1, 3-0). Other than the success 2A Yuma Catholic has come to know the past four years, having one or more of Yuma's 5A public schools dominate in a season or realize some postseason prowess has been close to an exercise in futility. The biggest game of the year in Yuma usually comes down to who will be city champ. That may be Cibola vs. Gila Ridge, coached by Jay Denton, which is 6-1 this season but so far lacks the marquee win Cibola has, as the regular season winds to a close.

Make no mistake 2010 Cibola is trying to buck the trend of just being city champ. The Raiders kept their perfect season intact last week when they handled Yuma High for the second time this season, 42-6. A perfect season would be a huge accomplishment . The school has never had one. Getting back to the playoffs and showing that a win over a program like Basha (6-1 on the season and sister school to Hamilton, Chandler and Perry)   was no fluke, is another goal. And perhaps it'ss the biggest goal. Why?

"We've never won a playoff game," Arvizo said. "We've been in a few, but never won one in the 20 years the school has been open. We still have some games left, though."

Playoff success among Yuma's public high schools in football hasn't eluded just Cibola. Over the last decade three of  Yuma's five public schools have qualified for the 5A playoffs. Cibola three times (2001, 2007 and 2009), Yuma (2005) and Kofa (2008). All lost in the first round of the playoffs. The only one that was somewhat close was Cibola's loss to Pinnacle, 28-14, in 2007.

The process of building a good program and a good team year after year in Yuma, however, is tougher than most places. The major difference, according to Arvizo, is exposure to the sport. More accurately the lack of exposure.

"I'd say about 85 percent of the freshman that come to our schools have never played tackle football," Arvizo said. "When we hand out equipment and uniforms they get a tailpad. A lot of the kids here  have played baseball. They are used to having cups in baseball. A lot of them put the tailpad on in front, not the back....

" We spend a lot of time on very basic things like that and a lot of fundamentals that kids at schools in the Valley are very experienced with when they come in as freshmen. It's not an excuse, it's just the way things are here. It's something we've learned to deal with."

It's not a lock, but Cibola has a legitimate shot at going umbeaten (10-0) and reaching the 5A-II playoffs with a top 10 seed. Might even finish in the top eight and play a home playoff game if circumstances are just right.

Former Yuma High school Rhett Stallworth, currently in his fourth year as head coach at 2A Yuma Catholic, is glad to see local brethren do well and accrue some notoriety.

"It would be nice to see them or any of the schools go to  the playoffs and win a game or two," Stallworth said. "I don't think people understand how tough it is to be successful here. It's a border town. There is no football at the junior high level. There are a lot of factors going against you."

The increase this decade from three to five public schools in Yuma, not to mention the birth of Yuma Catholic in the same span, has spread a scant talent pool in football even thinner.

"If there ever is going to be real improvement  here there has to be more put into football at the lower levels," Stallworth said. "The players that come to you as freshmen, so many of them are raw or totally inexperienced.   You do the best you can given the circumstances."

Arvizo doesn't want the Raiders to get caught up, like so many teams cruising along do, in looking past opponents. Lake Havasu this week. A team Cibola has already beaten. Winless San Luis the following week. And if the scenario plays out as it appears it might, Gila Ridge the final week with the city and region championship on the line.

"We still have three games left, so nothing is certain," Arvizo said. "We have a lot of work left. What's happened so far has been good for our kids. We want them to stay focused."