<i>Friday Night Lights, Part 1</i><br>All three local schools at home as '04 season kicks off tonight

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WR JOEY ROSAS

Tonight marks the first time that all three local high schools have started the season on the same night with home games.

Mingus will welcome second-year program Sandra Day O’Connor to The Cave. Camp Verde will entertain reigning 3A semifinalist Winslow, while Sedona will host 2A power Bourgade Catholic. All three games kick off at 7 p.m.

As usual, there will be plenty of butterflies among players and coaches in the lead up to the coin flip.

"When it starts getting close to that first one, you start worrying about all the things you may or may not have covered, and if you’ve covered enough," says Sedona coach Jim Cromartie, a veteran of several decades on the sidelines.

"You’d always like to have one more week."

Cromartie’s comrade at Camp Verde, coach Luke Steege, may have the toughest draw for an opener. Winslow won 10 games a year ago, reaching the third round of the state playoffs before falling to Show Low.

The folks in Bulldogs country are talking state titles this season. The Cowboys went 3-6 a year ago, and would like nothing more than to start the new campaign with an upset.

Both teams will likely be without a handful starters due to injuries and early season eligibility problems. Camp Verde will debut a somewhat new offense, shifting from the double wing to the Pro-I. Expect tailback Demetri Baca to get plenty of carries with fullback Jacinto Diaz leading the way.

Camp Verde and Winslow have been scrimmage partners the past few seasons and met in the 2002 state playoffs. The Cowboys nearly pulled off the upset in Winslow before falling 20-14.

Sedona’s Cromartie remembers well the last time his team faced Bourgade in a game that counted. It was the 2000 season, and the Golden Eagles pinned a 42-0 mercy-rule victory on his squad. It was Cromartie’s second game as Red Rock’s coach.

Bourgade won eight games a year ago and advanced to the second round of the 2A playoffs. A bus accident forced the Golden Eagles to forfeit their quarterfinal playoff contest against St. Johns.

Bourgade graduated a number of players from that ’03 squad and returns just nine seniors. Watch for running back Matt Wilde, who is listed among the top players in the 2A Metro Region.

"We anticipate a tough ball game," Cromartie said. "I’m sure they have a good JV program and will have some able replacements."

Sedona will counter with speedy backs Adam Senger and Tommy Wyatt. The team’s Achilles’ heel, though, could be depth. The Scorpions will rely on about 16 players total tonight, Cromartie said.

A couple potential starters on the line will miss the opener, putting much of the blocking load on returnees like sophomore Brett Senger and junior Eric West.

"I felt like coming out of the scrimmage (last week vs. Camp Verde) we’ve got a bunch of kids that will hit and will compete," Cromartie said. "We just can’t afford to have a kid get hurt."

If there’s a blowout to be had tonight, expect it to come out of Cottonwood. Mingus Union’s foe is only in its second year of varsity football. They have just five seniors.

Last year, the Marauders served as O’Connor’s first ever varsity opponent and didn’t exactly play the role of gracious guest. Mingus won 49-3, emptying its bench early.

"We watched their scrimmage, and definitely they are better," said Mingus coach Bob Young. "It will definitely be a bigger challenge than last year. Their kids are older and know the system."

The Marauders graduated more than 20 seniors from a team that went to the state quarterfinals. Though new starters will debut at several positions – including QB (Jay Arthur), RB (Corby Rice) and FB (Tate Stearley), Young’s crew likely won’t miss too many beats. The junior class, 27 strong, will be one to watch.

"I have a tough time reading this group," Young said this week. "There is a lot of skill but not a lot of varsity experience. We just need to get on the field."

Regardless of the outcomes tonight, none of these games will count toward the all-important power points standings that determine playoff berths. Mingus will begin playing power-points eligible games next week when Millennium visits.

Camp Verde and Sedona have until week three before their games count toward the power points system.

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