SEPTEMBER 25, 2013

Higley's last-seconds field goal grounds Falcons, 27-24

Knee injuries will sideline Joe Kuhlmann, Austin Keisling for rest of season
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In last Friday afternoon’s second round of the Coca-Cola Classic in Atlanta, Swedish golfer Henrick Stensen shot 64 to take a commanding lead in competition for the coveted (and lucrative) FedEx Cup. Stenson would go on to win the Cup and, with Tiger Woods, is a top contender to be named the USPGA’s “Player of the Year.” I’m pulling for the Swede. Why? Because, since his initial appearance here in late January 1997, Woods has snubbed the Phoenix Open, an insult to the Valley’s golfing world. That’s my observation.

Last Friday night, at approximately 9 p.m. (MST) the Falcons shot themselves in the proverbial foot by incurring three 15-yard penalties that set up Erik Fritz’s 22-yard winning field goal. Who is Erik Fritz? Higley’s foreign exchange student from Sweden!

For the stunned (and understandably disappointed) Falcons, the loss was their first of this season, and dropped them to #16 in MaxPreps ranking of the 54 teams in AIA’s Division II. From a 9-17 deficit at the end of three periods the Falcons had fought back, posting 15 fourth quarter points, the last seven of which came on soph Antonio Marchica’s 12-yard carry, followed by his successful P.A.T. that tied the seesaw game. Only two minutes were left to play. Then, after kicking off to the Knights, came the disastrous penalties. Now, like (the late) Paul Harvey, I’m going to tell “the rest of the story.”

The first penalty, on what appeared to have been a Falcon sack of Higley quarterback, was ruled “roughing the passer.” Could have gone either way. The second infraction was clear-cut: a flagrant shoving out-of-bounds of the scrambling Knight’s QB. “Unnecessary roughness” equaled a second walk-off of 15 yards. I get that. But the third infraction was (and still is) cole to unbelievable! As I’ve previously opined in this newspaper several times, “Stick around high schools sports long enough, and you’ll witness things you’ve never seen (or heard) before!”

A Falcon defender rushed up to his penalized teammate, loudly chastising him for the dumb infraction. But the Official who had flagged said Falcon defender thought he heard criticism of his penalty call; so he tacked on another 15 yards for “unsportsmanlike conduct!” With 15 ticks left, Erik Fritz comes on to nail his three-point winner. What a way to lose a football game!

From close to 3,000 miles away, I’m smellin’ what I call “home-cookin’ – East Valley style!” But very much to his credit, Head Coach Greg Davis pointedly assured me otherwise: “Our kids battled hard against a good Higley football team, and we just came up short. No, I didn’t agree with the first and third penalty calls; but in football, sometimes the calls go your way; sometimes they don’t. This time, they went against us. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and move on.” I say, “Let’s hear it for Coach Davis’s sportsmanship!”

joe kuhlmann, austin keislingThe anguishing loss was bad enough; but for the rest of the season, the Falcons will play without running back Joe Kuhlmann (eight touchdowns on 400+ rushing yards) and starting middle linebacker Austin Keisling. Both have torn ACLs. Rotten luck, guys. Hope you heal and rehab quickly.

“Moving on” schedule-wise means traveling next Friday night to South Mountain High School in south Phoenix. The Jaguars are off to a rough 0-5 start, and rank 38th. Guarding against overconfidence, the Falcons should have a good chance to regroup and come home with their fourth victory. But a first win-hungry team is always dangerous.

I close with greetings to Ms. Anne Montgomery, a talented friend who teaches journalism and creative writing at South Mountain. Formally an on-camera personality at ESPN, she has become a contributing writer to Arizona Highways, a published novelist – and the first female in Arizona to head an officiating crew for high school football. I met Ms. Montgomery in 2003, when she refereed CHSH vs. Greenway at Cactus Shadows. Five years later, she again refereed the Falcons, that game at Chaparral. Obviously, Anne Montgomery won’t on the football field at South Mountain tomorrow night; but somewhere in central Arizona, she and her crew will be under “Friday night lights.” Congratulations to Anne Montgomery on her most interesting career – first on national sports television, then as teacher, writer and referee.

~ Pete Mohr

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