The Coconino Panthers and Carl Hayden Falcons football teams are set to square off in a battle of new coaching staffs Friday.
Coconino hired Gary Cook as the head coach in the offseason, while Carl Hayden announced Jay Nunez as its new leader after going 7-3 last season.
Friday’s game at Cromer Stadium will be a test for who has the stronger start under the new regime.
Checking out a Coconino football practice. The Panthers open the season Friday at home pic.twitter.com/3uMBaYKADa
— Eric Newman (@enewmanwrites) August 22, 2023
“It’s definitely a good opener, and we get to see where we are as a team,” Panthers senior Prayer Young-Blackgoat said.
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But the Panthers won’t quite be at full strength in the opener.
Cook had been in the process of installing a new offense based around the speed of several skill players and the emerging talent of junior quarterback Colton Buckingham to get them the ball. However, Buckingham recently sustained an injury that will keep him out for Friday’s contest.
It means the Panthers have to change their game plan a bit, with senior running back Bridger French moving up as a bit of a running quarterback.
“We had basically worked for four months and got the offense to where it was kind of humming with the idea that we were going to throw a lot and spread people out, and then complement it with the running game,” Cook said. “Now the pass part of it is severely diminished. Bridger’s thrown the ball well, but that’s not his natural position.”
Coconino is hoping that, after a week off for a bye following Friday’s game, Buckingham will be back for a Sept. 8 home contest against Payson. Until then, Cook still has high expectations for his team.
“We still think we can be explosive, and there’s enough passing in it to keep people honest,” Cook said.
Defensively, the Panthers have looked tough. They’ll be going against a new-look Falcons offense. Carl Hayden lost a pair of talented running backs in Jaime Zayas and Kendre Pride to graduation and transfer, respectively. The pair combined for over 2,000 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns in 10 games last season.
Still, the Falcons could prove an efficient unit again.
Coconino will look to French on the defensive side, right after he runs off the field for a play or two at quarterback. He’s the leading returner in tackles, with 69 in 2022. Young-Blackgoat is next, having totaled 43 tackles and eight tackles for loss.
Young-Blackgoat is looking to take another step up this season, both in production and as one of the team’s leaders.
“Now that we’re seniors, I’m trying to be that. I was before, but I had older people above me. And I think it’s my turn to give back and make my mark,” he said.
Throughout the summer, Cook has noticed his players are particularly physical on defense. He feels they just need to be a bit smarter in using that strength.
The Panthers are fresh off a scrimmage at Snowflake — the defending 4A Conference runner-up — last week. The Lobos showed what finesse and power, mixed together, can accomplish.
Now Coconino hopes to follow suit.
“We need to get where they are with technique and mental mastery of doing the right stuff on the field. We had a good scrimmage in a lot of ways, but you can tell the difference with the way they’re humming,” Cook said.
“We need to get our mental state down. We can’t just win by only being physical, so it has to be both,” Young-Blackgoat added.
Coconino and Carl Hayden will kick off Friday at 7 p.m.
ERIC NEWMAN Sun Sports Editor azdailysun.com
2023-08-24 14:00:00 , azdailysun.com – Vivrr Local Results in news/local of type article