After the 10th-ranked high school football team in the country lost last week, the team that now claims Arizona’s longest current winning streak is ranked 22nd nationally and a few days ago won its second consecutive state championship.
That would be the Mogollon Mustangs of Heber, who capped a second undefeated season Saturday with a 58-12 thumping of St. David for their 21st straight win in the eight-man 1A Conference.
All of which is fine with Rick Samon, who’s unbeaten in his two years as Mogollon head coach, but Samon boasts more about the camaraderie among his players and the bonds between them and the coaches.
“It’s not a matter of pride,” Samon said. “It’s a matter of having a relationship and building a program with your kids. These kids have come together and they’ve played well together and they’ve been selfless in their actions and their play. They complement each other, and we end up with the longest winning streak in the state. It just goes to show the type of kids we’re coaching here.”
The last time the Mustangs were beaten came on Nov. 9, 2019, a 52-28 setback against Superior in the state semifinals. Afterward, Ron Tenney stepped down from head coach to assistant for Samon, and the Mustangs have dominated the 1A level ever since.
“It’s a little hard to grasp all that at one time,” Samon admits. “You take over a program that you’ve been working in for 20 years and as soon as you take over you go to state two years in a row and you go undefeated two years in a row, which are school records. (It’s) just a little overwhelming at times to think about. Lot of stuff.”
National power Chandler had won 45 straight games but lost Friday to rival Chandler Hamilton 21-14.
While last season the 9-0 Mustangs won most games handily — the 38-30 state final over Williams an exception — the 2021 opponents all lost by double digits, Mogollon’s average margin of victory was 51.9 points, and all but one game required a running clock — some call it the mercy rule — to end the other team’s misery.
That particular game, on Sept. 17 in Heber, also was against St. David, and the Tigers actually held a 20-16 lead in the second quarter, marking the only time this season the Mustangs had trailed in a game. Alas, the Mustangs took a 24-20 halftime lead and eventually won 48-26, the 22-point cushion being the narrowest of margins all season.
That early-season matchup was a topic of discussion between Samon and his St. David counterpart, Braden Davis, at Saturday night’s championship game in Scottsdale, which had the Mustangs mount leads of 22-0 and 46-6 at the end of the opening two periods.
“It was interesting because when we went to the state game he says he’s got a couple of players back and ‘we should do better tonight.’ After the game he says ‘I never expected this,’ ” Samon said.
A few weeks before the season opened on Aug. 20, team captains were named, a team identity was established and a team objective was determined at a dinner meeting among coaches and a “core” of six seniors that included receiver Tyler Owens, center Edy Corrales, tight end Braxton Owens, running back Malaki Porter, tight end Fisher Porter and quarterback Cael Porter, all of whom also play defense.
“One of the things they wanted to have as their focus was to be humble and treat each other in fairness,” Samon said. “Throughout the season, even going into the state game, we had a pretty good idea that we were going to end up with the score we had, but nobody got mad because somebody else got the ball. We meshed well no matter what went on.”
So humility and respect were manifest when preseason camp and practices started along with a third attitude — determination.
“We talked about how we have to earn it day by day,” Samon said. “You have to get better day by day and to have that focus on winning. This group of kids met that. They stayed focused on that all the way through to the end of this game Saturday night. It wasn’t like ‘this is ours; we deserve it; we’re gonna walk in there and take it.’ We walked in there with the anticipation it was going to be a hard game, we were going to fight a hard battle and be victorious even if it was by only one point.”