No. 1: Palo Verde wins first title, becomes only Tucson team with 13 wins in 1973 last-minute thriller over Camelback

(Tucson Citizen clipping)


No. 1

CHAMPIONSHIP: Class 5A (known as Class AAA at the time)

SCORE: Palo Verde 22, Phoenix Camelback 20

DATE: December 7, 1973

SITE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe (estimated 14,000 in attendance)

GAME SUMMARY: The top state championship game in Southern Arizona high school football history belongs to Palo Verde in 1973, when the Titans engineered “The Drive” at the end of the game that kept them unbeaten at 13-0 and gave coach Van Howe the greatest parting gift heading into his retirement.

Trailing 20-15 with 6:12 remaining, Palo Verde gained possession at its 20-yard line.

Palo Verde was faced with a fourth-and-3 situation at the Camelback 45 when Howe decided to go for the first down to keep alive the chance to go ahead with that possession.

Titan quarterback Chuck Helms rolled to his right for five yards to keep the drive going.

Helms earlier in the drive completed a pass for a first down when Palo Verde was faced with a third-and-10 situation at the Titan 43.

Helms then completed four consecutive passes to reach the Camelback 2-yard line.

Rick Jackson ran for a yard before Helms forced himself across the line into the end zone with only 34 seconds remaining for the winning score. Paul Swank made the extra point to put Palo Verde ahead 22-20.

Helms completed seven of nine passes and he rushed for 21 yards in one of the most historic drives in Southern Arizona high school football history.

Palo Verde won its last two games in the previous year to finish 3-7 and then the Titans put together a 13-0 season in 1973 for the retiring Howe, who coached the Titans in their first 12 years of existence starting in 1962.

It was the school’s first state championship, and the 13 victories in a season was a record for Southern Arizona schools at the time. It tied the state record set by Phoenix St. Mary’s in 1967 and Phoenix Central in 1969.

Palo Verde was able to rebound after not being able to get a first down on a fourth-and-1 situation at the Camelback 39-yard line. That led to Camelback (11-2) driving 61 yards for a touchdown to take the 20-15 lead setting up Helms’ heroic drive.

Howe’s decision to go for a two-point conversion just before the end of the first half put pressure on Camelback. After Helms completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jackson, Helms scored on the two-point conversion run to give Palo Verde a 15-14 lead at halftime.

When Camelback scored to take the 20-15 lead, coach Jesse Parker felt compelled to try a two-point conversion. The run failed and Palo Verde was set up with the chance to take the lead with a touchdown.

THEY SAID IT: “This is a great way to end a career. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and it’s something these boys can look back on and be proud of. They are members of the first Palo Verde team ever to win a football championship. They came through in clutch situations and really deserved to win. When they came back three times (from being down to Camelback), they were showing the form of champions.” — Palo Verde coach Van Howe to the Tucson Citizen

DID YOU KNOW: Howe moved to Tucson in 1956 from where he was a high school coach at Salem, Ill., to be an assistant coach at Arizona as part of Warren Woodson’s staff. In 1961, he went to Pueblo High School to be an assistant coach. A year later, he became the first football coach at Palo Verde. He was forced to retire by the Tucson Unified School District because he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 1973. He retired after 36 years of coaching. His record at Palo Verde was 55-57-3. Remarkably, the 1973 season was the first time the Titans made the postseason with him as coach.

BOXSCORE (printed in Tucson Citizen):

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