With the Wranglers trailing by only three points late in the third quarter Friday night, Wickenburg High’s star running back Bryson Alder ended up on the sidelines for the rest of the game with a collarbone injury. However, Alder was able to pick up 45 yards rushing before the injury to finish the season with 1,002 yards.
By Kevin Cloe
Best half of football in the entire season.
That’s how Head Coach Mike Mitchell described his Wickenburg High School football team’s performance last Friday night in the Wranglers’ final game of the season.
Unfortunately, that half was only the first half against host River Valley. The second half was a different story — resulting in a 32-15 loss to the Dust Devils.
With the loss, the Wranglers (4-5) suffered their first losing season since 2014 and their first absence from the state 3A Conference playoffs in four years.
“I was proud of you guys in the first half,” Coach Mitchell told his players last Friday night. “That was your best effort of the season.”
One 39-yard drive early in the first quarter after a River Valley lost fumble and a more impressive 67-yard drive late in the second quarter put the 23rd-ranked Wranglers in a 15-15 tie against the eventual 13th-ranked Dust Devils at halftime. Two turnovers that resulted in River Valley touchdowns in the second quarter were the only blemishes on an otherwise sparkling performance in the first half. Then despite two unsuccessful short offensive drives in the third period, the Wranglers defense allowed only a 20-yard field goal before heading into the fourth quarter three points behind.
But that’s when their end of the season unraveled.
The bad news had started late in the third quarter when the Wranglers’ star running back, junior Bryson Alder, suffered a collarbone injury that sidelined him the rest of the night.
A 78-yard runaway touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter put River Valley up 25-15, and three minutes later (following the Wranglers’ third lost fumble), the Dust Devils capitalized on a 38-yard pass play to set up their victory-securing final TD.
Although the Wranglers had struggled with a consistent passing game this season, sophomore quarterback Calogero DiCamillo finished Friday night completing 6 of his 13 pass attempts for 146 yards — connecting with senior wide receiver Troy Adamo three times for 3, 41 and 37 yards to excite the small group of fans who traveled three hours to the game. Junior Clay Watson and sophomore Korbyn Dowdy caught two other completions — both for 26-yard first downs — and Alder hauled in the other one for 13 yards to set up the team’s second touchdown.
DiCamillo ended up scoring both of the Wranglers’ touchdowns on a one-yard plunge in the first quarter and an eight-yard scramble in the second quarter. He finished with 27 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Despite not finishing the game on the field, Alder still was able to surpass the magical 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season after he fought for 45 yards to end up with 1,002 yards.
With the victory, River Valley moves on to the 3A Conference state playoffs as the No. 2 team from the 3A West Region with a season record of 7-2 and 3-1 region mark. As the No. 13 team in the conference, the Dust Devils open the playoffs by traveling to No. 4-ranked Snowflake this coming Friday.
The Wranglers could have avoided the losing season if 3A West Region opponent Kingman Academy hadn’t cancelled the remainder of its schedule halfway through the season.
Instead of counting the game as a forfeit win, the Arizona Interscholastic Association so far has declared it as a non-counting cancellation.
A forfeit win could have improved the Wranglers’ standing in the AIA power points rankings, where they finished 23rd among the 39 teams. They climbed from No. 26 to No. 22 with victories against Chino Valley and Kingman but then slipped one notch with the loss to River Valley. They needed to finish the season ranked No. 15 or better in order to qualify for the state playoffs.