Chino football returns to playoffs

A constant over the past four years under head coach Russ Semore has been the inclusion of Round Valley in the State football playoffs. The Elks qualified each time and in 2004, got as far as the semifinals.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you find Chino Valley. Through most of the program's existence, the Cougars struggled through disappointing season after disappointing season. But the tide began to turn a couple of years ago.

Tonight in the Round Valley Dome, the 7-3 Cougars will participate in their first playoff game since 1997. Players on this year's team were in grade school the last time Chino danced.

"The temperament's been good, the mood's been good," CVHS coach Bob David said. "I think we match up good with this team, I really do. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I think we'll be pretty loose and go play our game as hard as we can."

Chino's game has revolved around hard-nosed running mixed in with timely passing. Running back Johnny Kennedy finished the regular season with 1,673 yards and 17 touchdowns. A key player that helps open up holes for Kennedy will miss tonight's game. Starting center Jess Feichter dislocated his kneecap during practice on Monday.

However, David will keep the starting job in the family. Allan Feichter moves from fullback to the center position.

"Allan was the varsity center during his freshman and sophomore years," David said. "So, he's doing well there. It lets me keep the rest of the line where I had them."

Even more than his offensive skills, Jess Feichter will be missed on defense. He's the sixth-leading tackler (6.8 per game) for the Cougars and has a team-high eight quarterback hurries.

Wideout Josh Clelland is another primary offensive weapon with his 33 catches for 684 yards and 13 TDs. David has used both Cole Whisenhunt and Billy Davis at QB over the last half of the season but overall, Whisenhunt has many more snaps.

A big test in the game will come down to the Round Valley offense vs. the Chino Valley safeties and corners. Elks QB Hayden Eagar has thrown for 2,621 yards and 28 touchdowns. Two receivers have 50-plus receptions - T.J. Peters (54-899, 14 TDs) and Evan Hamblin (51-718, 5 TDs).

"We throw it 40 to 50 times per game," Semore said. "We run a spread offense with four wide receivers all the time. We want to throw the ball and get it around the field."

No. 4 Round Valley (6-3) comes into the game on a two-game losing streak. The Elks dropped decisions of 28-21 to No. 3 Show Low and 42-14 to No. 1 Blue Ridge ... not an easy schedule.

"We're a young football team. We have 14 kids starting that are first-year varsity players," Semore said. "It's hard to gauge how a young football team is going to react to the playoffs."

Round Valley has moderate size on the line but then again, every team is bigger than Chino, The Cougars appear to have the advantage in speed.

"It looks like to me on film that they have good overall team speed and their tailback is really, really good," Semore said of Chino. "They also have some receivers who can run with good speed and a quarterback who can throw the ball a little bit."

David said the program has eradicated the negative attitude that plagued the Cougars in recent years. With high spirits and confidence, Chino hopes to get another shot at Wickenburg in the second round.

The head coach won't hold anything back.

"The time for being conservative is over," he said.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. at the Round Valley Dome in Eagar.