6A Football: Fifty years after North & Tucson made history, they met again at Gridley

The first televised Arizona high school football game was between Tucson High and North Phoenix High in 1967.

Badgers Football 1967 season as covered in the Tucsonian, at the end of the school year in 1968.

Legendary coach Ollie Mayfield had a couple of state championships under his belt as the man at the helm for the Badgers and had spent time nationally ranked early in his tenure. North was ranked themselves and a serious state title contender. The two met for the fourth game of the ’67 season and Tucson High shined in front of the cameras, winning 40-6. Both schools would go on to have a long rivalry and deal each other wins and losses.

Legendary Coach Ollie Mayfield getting after one of his players during the ’67 season.

Fast forward to 2018 and Tucson High has found itself as Tucson’s lone 6A school. When Sunnyside and Rincon were moved down to 5A due to student enrollment, the Badgers were put in a place where four of their five away games this season would have to be played in Phoenix. While everyone else in their new 6A Metro Division gets to travel to the Old Pueblo once every other year, the Badgers have to make at least 4 road trips a year up to The Valley. Tucson head coach Justin Argraves and his coaching staff have not let their Badger squad find any reason to complain or make excuses for their grueling travel schedule. In fact, with 34 seniors listed on the 63 man roster, the Tucson High coaching staff has raised the level of expectations and have demanded more of their group.

The Badgers have responded well so far this season.

Don’t tell that to the Badger coaching staff however.

While those in the stands have seen the Tucson High score 198 points and only allow 18, coaches and players on the THS sidelines would be VERY quick to tell you that every one of those 18 points came from their own mental lapses, mistakes, miscues and penalties. The Badgers quite literally have given those 18 points to opponents with a bow and card on top. Twelve of the 18 were two touchdowns they surrendered to Pueblo at home. The first was a lateral pass that hit the brand new turf at Gridley Stadium. The entire Tucson offense blew it off as simply an incomplete pass and stood still as they looked to the officials to blow the play dead. Pueblo was able to scoop it up and take it to the house (the PAT was blocked). The second touchdown to Pueblo came as THS was winning 30-6 with less than 10 seconds left and took a knee on their own 1 to bring an end to the game. It was 4th down however and Pueblo was able to punch it in just before the game was over. Since then, Tucson has notched consecutive shutouts to division teams.

Everyone in the Badgers locker room openly admit that they should have shutouts in all four games this season.

Friday night against the North Phoenix Mustangs, Tucson head coach Justin Argraves and his staff were winning 33-0 at halftime but from the look on everyone’s faces on the Badgers’ sideline, things weren’t going as they should. Tucson felt like they were in the middle of a 0-0 sluggfest.

Miscues, poor execution, penalties, miscommunication and plain sloppiness were all words coaches and players used on the sideline Friday night to describe their first half play. Homecoming fans in the stands were loving what they were seeing. Coaches and players felt like they had a ton of work to do still.

Let’s break down Tucson High’s win over North a little on Friday Nights Homecoming game a little.

While Tucson’s defense was forcing North to go four and out consistently, they were also on the field way too much. Some if it was the offense’s lack of productivity. Playing flat to start the game and punting multiple times throughout the night. Scoring 50 points on just over 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing (60 of which came in garbage time to score THS’s final touchdown). Two hundred yards of total offense and a passing percentage under 50% on the night would make anyone reading the stat sheets scratch their heads when they see 50 points were scored.

For the most part, however, it was Tucson’s tremendous productivity on special teams and defense.

Tucson’s defense got things started by getting to Mustang QB Luis Rojas in his own end zone and tacked a safety onto an early first quarter lead. Badgers punt returner Octavius Thomas (4) scored on a punt return for 68 yards and also returned an interception 58 yards to the house, prolonging the defense’s time on the field each time. Badger kicker Mark Vargas (19) didn’t miss a kick all night whether it was PATs or FGs. The Badgers also overcame 3 key injuries on defense Friday night as well and still kept a goose egg on the visitor’s side of the board.

Tucson High’s Octavius Thomas made a cut so hard against North Phoenix, that the sole of his shoe had to forfeit.

The inability to get the offense firing on all cylinders is what keeps Argraves and his staff barking at their players and harping on all they work on throughout the week. In all seriousness, had the offense been able to sustain drives and get in the end zone themselves, 50-0 could have been the score at the half.

With a passing game that had a completion percentage under 50, the offense still had its great moments. One came when QB Jesus Montano (11) threw a 50/50 ball up into the end zone from 30 yards out to (WR) Wyatt Campos, who came down with it on pay dirt with a DB draped all over him. The offense, when its all clicking for the Badgers, can be as potent as any in the state. They don’t seem to be in sync quite yet and that brings up a major question.

Can they get on point in time?

Tucson High Badgers Football has raised eye brows so far and is on track to have a spectacular season. The only major challenges thus far posed to them has been BY them. Self inflicted adversity, along with injuries that seem to be mounting each game. Despite what may seem to be chemistry or execution issues on offense, Tucson has been able to dominate teams and are on top of their new division. Going into the second half of the season, with Mountain View, Salpointe, Cesar Chavez and Chandler looming, can the Badgers get their key injured players off of crutches, get their up-tempo offense running on JP8 like it’s designed to and clean up the little things in time to face what seems to be a “scary, murder’s row” of a schedule?

Having 34 seniors on a 63 man roster would make one believe that the leadership is there to clean up and overcome all the little things Argraves feels they still need to improve on.

Tucson lists only 3 sophomores on the offensive and defensive lines, the rest being juniors and seniors. Having 22 defensive linemen weighing in at a combined 5,000 lbs and 21 offensive linemen tipping the scales at 4,800 lbs would lend itself to a belief that Tucson has the depth and experience in the trenches to overcome the untimely and very key injuries they’ve suffered up front.

Tucson High is right where any team would want to be at this point in the season. In control and on top of the standings in their division.

For Tucson to continue its spectacular season, coaches and players know things are going to have to start coming together a lot more than they already have.

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