Originally Published: August 30, 2018 11:35 p.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY — The buzz around the 2018 Bradshaw Mountain football team, which owns a 2-0 record to start a season for the first time in five years, seems to be growing.
Although their first two victories were neither flashy nor particularly dominant, the Bears haven’t much cared. They won on the road and did it the old-fashioned way – coupling a gritty, experienced defense with an offense that can run the ball effectively.
So, what are Bradshaw Mountain’s plans for tonight’s 7 o’clock kickoff in its home opener in a 4A showdown versus Southwest region foe Youngker (0-1) on the new synthetic turf at Bob Pavlich Field?
“It’s going to be really intense,” the Bears’ Cameron Harris said. “I’ve been getting a lot more people around town saying, ‘Good luck out there. I heard you guys are doing really good.’ I walk around Walmart, just walk around stores, and they come up to me and tell me, ‘Good game. I’ll be there at the game on Friday.’ It makes us hyped and ready and excited to know that the town’s behind us.”
Players say Bears fans should expect a harder-working, humbler team than a year ago, one that does a better job of respecting its opponents.
“We don’t care how we win – we’re going to take advantage of what they [our opponents] give,” second-year coach Chuck Moller said.
Despite typical early season struggles with turnovers and penalties (offsides, personal fouls), Grand Canyon region member Bradshaw Mountain has settled in under Moller after grasping his schemes. Moller demands discipline from his players, who have responded well with a senior-dominated lineup.
After a difficult 0-5 start to the 2017 campaign, the Bears have compiled an impressive 6-1 record since (including this season).
“We had such a good thing going [four consecutive playoff appearances, 2013-2016] and such a program built up, and it all got cut off, and we were the class that got affected,” senior linebacker Connor Scott said about the transition from former coach David Moran to Moller. “Having the new (turf) field erases all of that last year. We have a new, clear mindset.”
Moller’s 6-6 overall as Bradshaw Mountain’s coach and, with a victory tonight, he can climb above the .500 mark. The Bears haven’t opened a season at 3-0 since 2010, when they advanced to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
The Bears defeated Estrella Foothills, 20-13, in Goodyear in Week 1, and followed that up with a 20-7 win over Shadow Mountain in Phoenix in Week 2. And they’ve done it with defense.
“That group has played with mental and physical toughness,” Moller said. “They believe they’re going to out-tough anybody in the game – and I believe they will. We have good speed at all positions, and we’re not going to be afraid to hold back.”
Through two games, Bradshaw Mountain d-linemen Harris, Connor Scott, Jared Wasielewski and Coby Meldrum have brought the pressure.
“We come out aggressive, and we’re a strong group of four,” Harris said. “We get the job done. Any one of us can make a play.”
Added Wasielewski, “Everybody’s always on the same page. We’re playing for each other, especially the seniors. We’re coming with our hearts and pride.”
And the linemen have had superb support from players such as linebackers Noah Shaver, Luke Huenemeyer and Ismael Solano, cornerback Cody Tucker, and safeties Elijah Knisely and Logan Brannan.
“We’ve all been playing on this same field since freshman year, and we’ve kind of been building that bond with each other,” said Scott, a senior.
Youngker of Buckeye received a bye in the first week of the season. On Aug. 24, the Roughriders struggled mightily in a 49-6 loss to Peoria in their home opener. But Moller said he’s not taking them lightly.
Last season, Youngker finished with a 7-4 record and narrowly missed the state playoffs. Three of their four losses were by 1 point, including a 40-39 setback to eventual 4A state qualifier Buckeye.
“This is a dangerous team,” Moller said. “Throw away the stats from the first game. They’re doing something right to have stats like that [from 2017].”
Second-year Youngker coach Tony Cluff said his Roughriders had a good year in 2017, but that his players may have entered 2018 with too much of a chip on their shoulders.
“Last week we took a big step backward,” Cluff added. “The whole way around. It was fundamentals. We have gone back to the basics [this week]. We need to do the little things first before we can do the big things. I’m going to be interested in how we come out [on Friday night].”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.