CAMP VERDE – If Charles Dickens were alive today and in Camp Verde, perhaps his next book would be titled ‘A Tale of Two Seasons.’
Amid controversy and contentions both spoken and unspoken, the Camp Verde High School football team finished its season Friday night with a 12-8 home win against section rival Sedona-Red Rock High School.
The Cowboys finished their season with a 4-6 record. Win, or lose, the 2016 Camp Verde football team will not be remembered by scores, records or statistics. At least not in the locker room.
“I don’t care about the score,” interim head coach Jerome Rhodes said following the game. “I care about character. We’re going to do things with character.”
It has been said that circumstances do not make the man, but they reveal him. No statement could be truer about this team, as three of Camp Verde’s four victories came after head coach Steve Darby was placed on administrative leave in September. The other win came via forfieture.
Camp Verde Unified School District has yet to release a statement on Darby.
Since taking over as coach, Rhodes was tasked with preparing his team to play – and to win – which at gross understatement was a challenge as neither players nor coaches were told why they were going to battle without their head coach.
“It’s a huge responsibility, but I’ve been around the game a long time,” said Rhoades, a 25-year coaching veteran whose only other stint as head coach was with Payson High School from 2003 through 2007. “I know what it takes to win.”
After a scoreless first period, two second quarter touchdowns gave Camp Verde a 12-0 halftime lead.
The Cowboys scored their first touchdown as quarterback Payton Sarkesian completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Loza following a fumble recovery deep in Sedona-Red Rock territory. The extra point attempt failed.
Though Sedona-Red Rock again drove deep into Camp Verde territory, the Cowboys again kept the Scorpions from scoring, then took possession of the ball at their own 6 yard line.
After three plays and a first down, Sarkesian completed an 81-yard pass to Carson Zale, who was stopped one yard shy of the end zone.
On a keeper, Sarkesian scored from a yard out for the Cowboys’ second and final score of the night; the extra point attempt again failed.
Rhoades told his players following the victory that “every single one of you played a huge part in tonight’s game.”
“The defense did an outstanding job,” Rhoades said. “We just got after them.”
Camp Verde surrendered a touchdown in the third quarter as Sedona-Red Rock drove from the Camp Verde 48 yard line and scored on six running plays. The extra point attempt failed.
Getting close – but not close enough
With both teams exchanging scoreless drives through much of the fourth quarter, Camp Verde kept Sedona-Red Rock from the end zone with just shy of six minutes remaining. Taking the ball inside their own five, Sarkesian attempted a pass from his own goal line but was called for intentional grounding – a safety – and two points for Sedona Red Rock.
“We were down,” said Camp Verde running back Ryan Cain. “But then we showed how far we’ve come as a team.”
Again, Camp Verde kept Sedona-Red Rock from scoring and took possession of the ball late in the game after Scorpions quarterback Chas Rescigno threw incomplete passes on both third down and fourth down.
With barely a minute remaining, Camp Verde took a knee to the ground to win the game.
As if winning wasn’t good enough
Following a few post-game words to his squad, Rhoades called his girlfriend to the team huddle – where he proposed to her.
“She said yes! She said yes! She said yes!” the team chanted as Denver resident Ginny Grant accepted Rhoades hand in marriage.
“I told them all yesterday at practice,” Rhoades said. “I told them they had to win or I wouldn’t do it.”
Rhoades, who met Grant 26 years ago when they worked together in Phoenix, were reacquainted a year ago, he said.
“After a 25-year absence,” Rhoades said. “Absence made the heart grow fonder.”