Blue Ridge and Show Low continue top rivalry

Blue Ridge and Show Low continue top rivalry

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Blue Ridge and Show Low continue top rivalry

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PINETOP-LAKESIDE –The parking lots for high school football games are usually empty at 5 p.m., except for the few cars that have transported workers, coaches or players to the game.

But this was scene at 5 p.m. at Blue Ridge High on Friday: Cars, one after another, filed into the lot just west of the stadium. Lawn chairs were unfolded. Tables were set up with food and drink. It was the classic American tailgating scene — for a high school football game.

Of course, Blue Ridge vs. Show Low isn’t just another game. It’s one of the better rivalries in Arizona, if not the best. The two schools are 10.3 miles apart, they’ve won four of the past five Division IV (3A Conference) titles and, as usual, they came into Friday’s contest undefeated: Blue Ridge was 9-0, Show Low 8-0.

The festivities suited the occasion. There were bonfires and bagpipe players in kilts, portable bleachers set up for the overflow crowd and a helicopter dropping off the mascots at midfield 15 minutes before kickoff.

You know, like every Friday night around the Valley.

Then the game started and the party ended.

Blue Ridge and Show Low don’t play the no-huddle, spread the field, hurry-up offense that’s become the rage at so many high schools. This is, as former Cardinals coach Joe Bugel put it, slobber-knocker football. Pound the ball into the line. If it doesn’t work, do it again … and again … and again.

“You’ve got to use your strengths,” Blue Ridge coach Paul Moro said. “They run the football really well and we usually run the football really well.”

How well? Coming into the game, Blue Ridge was averaging 358.1 rushing yards per game and 71.6 passing yards. Show Low, despite being behind much of the second half Friday, ran for 259 yards and threw for 62.

When Show Low running backs Brice Rova and Dallin Crandell weren’t punishing defenders, Blue Ridge’s Nolan Cook and Chans Cox — arguably the best pair of sledgehammers in the state — were lowering their heads and obliterating helpless linebackers and defensive backs.

Blue Ridge won 24-14 only because Show Low committed five turnovers, all on Blue Ridge’s side of the field, including two inside the 10-yard line.

“I thought we had a great game plan,” Show Low coach Randy Ricedorff said. “We had a lot of confidence going in and we still have confidence.”

They should. Blue Ridge had beaten its previous four opponents by a combined score of 204-0. It was fortunate to escape Friday.

While Moro justly is recognized as one of Arizona’s all-time best coaches — he’s won 12 state titles — Ricedorff is no slouch. He was part of the no-huddle revolution two years ago when his son, Rathen, threw an astounding 55 touchdown passes and the Cougars won the 3A state title. But Ricedorff has adjusted his scheme to suit his talent, and Show Low remains one of the elite teams in Division IV.

“Coach Ricedorff would rather throw it all over the place. That’s his nature,” Moro said.

Friday’s game probably won’t be the last time Show Low and Blue Ridge share a football field this season. They’ve squared off in each of the past three state championship games, and no one will be surprised if they make it four in a row this year.

“That’s why you don’t play all your cards in this game,” Moro said. “You might see them again so you just try to have a good enough game plan that you survive the first time.”

There won’t be any helicopters landing inside the Walkup Skydome on Nov. 24. But if form holds, Blue Ridge and Show Low will be there, friendly rivals trying to bludgeon each other into submission.

If you like a lot of footballs in the air and points on the scoreboard, don’t go. But if you appreciate old-fashioned, in-your-face, the-toughest-team-wins football, there won’t be a better place to be on that championship Saturday.

Reach Bordow at scott.bordow@arizonarepublic .com or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.

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