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CHAMPIONSHIP: Class 5A (Class AAA at the time)
SCORE: Amphitheater 27, Mesa 0
DATE: December 6, 1979
SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe (estimated 11,000 in attendance)
GAME SUMMARY: The “Ooh Aah Man” even got involved in legendary Vern Friedli’s lone state championship earned at Amphi.
Joseph Cavaleri, a.k.a. Ooh Aah Man, took part in a pregame prep rally in which he ripped apart a stuffed jackrabbit (Mesa’s nickname) and stuffed the parts through a basketball hoop much to the delight of the crowd.
The Panthers, under defensive coordinator Ed Roman, proceeded to stuff Mesa, holding the Jackrabbits to only 107 yards of total offense in the shutout as Amphi finished with a perfect season at 13-0 for the first time.
It was the first shutout in a AAA state title game since 1972.
Although it was a whitewash, this game is very meaningful because of it being Friedli’s greatest achievement. The late coach was inducted into the National High School Athletics Association Coaches Hall of Fame after winning a state-record 331 football games (288 of them at Amphi) from 1968 to 2011.
Mesa (8-6) was hindered by an early injury suffered by star running back Vai Sikahema, who later played with BYU and the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. He only had three carries against the Panthers.
The Jackrabbits’ only scoring threat was turned back toward the end of the first half when Jerry Lykins made an interception after it appeared as though he was beat.
Amphi went ahead for good with 2:52 left in first quarter when Sam Molina hit Sky Moore with a perfect pass on a crossing pattern for 57 yards.
The Panthers’ were stymied by penalties the rest of the half, keeping them to a 6-0 lead over Mesa at halftime.
Amphi drove 67 yards in its first possession of the second half, capped by a 26-yard touchdown run by Arlen Bethay.
Friedli’s team dominated the third quarter so much that Mesa was able to only run eight offensive plays.
The Panthers mounted a 20-0 lead early in the fourth quarter after scoring on Bethay’s 2-yard run, culminating a 72-yard drive.
Amphi concluded the scoring with 3:32 left on Joey Canizales’ 4-yard touchdown run. Canizales, who finished with 111 yards on 18 carries, broke free for a 46-yard run earlier in the possession.
Bethay led the Panthers with 148 yards on 26 carries. Friedli’s wishbone attack tallied 296 yards on the ground.
Mesa (8-6) miraculously advanced to the championship after losing its first four games and finishing 5-5 in the regular season. The Jackrabbits upset No. 1 seed Mesa Mountain View 20-19 in the first round of the playoffs and then defeated Sabino 18-13 in the quarterfinals. Ben Arredondo’s team reached the championship by beating Phoenix Maryvale 27-21 in the semifinals.
THEY SAID IT: “We did what we do best. We stuck with the run and had great success because we executed so well. And the defense — what else can you say about their effort? It was just unbelievable. The win makes up for a lot of frustration over the years. The kids played as a team. That’s how we won all year and that’s how we won tonight.” — Amphi coach Vern Friedli to the Tucson Citizen.
DID YOU KNOW: Friedli went on to coach Amphi to state championship games in 1990 and 1997 but fell short. He coached Morenci to the 3A state title game in 1973 before coming to Tucson but lost that game. He coached another 14 years after last reaching the championship game in 1997. He did not reach the pinnacle after capturing the 1979 title, but he is still revered as the best coach in Southern Arizona history. He coached until he was 75, retiring after suffering a stroke. He passed away in 2017.
BOX SCORE (printed in the Tucson Citizen):