By DANIEL DULLUM,
When Florence takes the field Friday night for its homecoming game against San Tan Valley Combs, they’ll do so while mourning the loss of their head coach.
With the untimely passing of Florence head football coach Steve McKane on Tuesday, the school announced that his father, Bill McKane – the longtime head coach at Mesa High School – will take over the program on an interim basis.
“I’m glad to be able to do it,” Bill McKane said. “I’m glad that I will have that honor, to follow in Steve’s footsteps and coach on his behalf.”
Thad Gates, FHS principal, said that after meeting with Bill McKane, “he said this is what he wants to do, to stay on course this week and coach the team the way he knew his son would. He said, ‘If I need to be at the bonfire, just to say a few words, I’ll be there.’ He’s ready to carry on the work his son had started.
“After hugs and tears we spent about 15 minutes in my office. Bill said, ‘I’m sure going to miss him.’ Then we started talking about moving forward. You have to respect what he’s willing to do in the wake of such a tragedy.
“Bill said he’s ready to go, which is amazing.”
Dawn Windsor, assistant principal, said that Bill McKane’s decision “represents the character that their family has. I’ve known them for many years. They’re good people.”
While grieving the loss of their head coach, the Gophers are also looking to get back into the playoff picture.
Last Friday, Chandler Seton Catholic handed the Gophers their third loss of the season, a 60-20 thumping, the worst defeat Florence suffered since losing 58-0 last season at Show Low.
“Hopefully, our boys will see the difference in how we played tonight against a real; good team and what we need to do to become better,” the late Steve McKane said Friday after the lopsided loss. “Seton Catholic is a legit playoff team and it’s important for our kids to see what they need to do to reach that level. Hopefully, some of it will rub off later down the road.”
Florence takes a 3-3 record into Friday’s homecoming contest against Combs, a Division IV, Section 4 foe which enters the game at 4-2. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The Gophers enter Friday’s game ranked No. 20 overall in the AIA’s Division IV power poll, and No. 4 in Section 4. Combs is ranked No. 15 overall, No. 3 in the section.
Thus far, Coach Jesse Hart’s Coyotes opened their season with victories over Globe (9-0), Queen Creek Canyon State Academy (35-14) and Wickenburg (27-7) before losing to Coolidge (44-19) on Sept. 20. After defeating Chino Valley 24-8 on Sept. 27, the Coyotes suffered a 27-21 loss to Phoenix Cortez last week.
Combs is primarily a running team, led by Elijah Throckmorton, who averages 11 yards per carry and 92.4 yards per game (462 yards on 42 carries). Tracy Lockett has gained 158 yards (4.79 per carry, Ruben Chavez has gained 139 yards (4.09 per carry) and quarterback Sean Sasser has gained 124 yards and ran for four touchdowns.
Senior linebackers Doug Osborne and Nick Prueher lead the Coyote defense, along with Lockett, Eli Perez, Garrett Wood, and Todd Goodman. Wood and Riley Bourgeous each have four quarterback sacks, and Zane Hunt has two interceptions.
Florence counters with a solid running attack of its own, led by Ian Campos, who is on target for a possible 1,000-yard season. Campos has gained 745 yards on 66 attempts (11.29 per carry) averages 149 rushing yards per game and has scored seven touchdowns. Beau Griego is next with 410 yards on 60 carries (6.83 per carry) and seven TDs.
Gophers quarterback Bobby Herrera has completed over 50 percent of his passes (69 of 137) for 1,259 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Herrera’s main target has been Matt Ramirez, with 18 receptions for 452 yards and seven touchdowns. Oscar Rodriguez and Ramsey Garcia have caught 10 and 12 passes, respectively. Edy Ruiz, another top receiver, is out with a knee injury.
Defensively for the Gophers, linebacker Zach London is the leading tackler with 36 solo and 24 assisted. Griego, a strong safety, and linebacker George Obitz each have 30 solo tackles, followed by linebacker William Garcia with 29. Tackle Anthony Formato has three quarterback sacks, with two each by London and nose guard Kameron Hall. Ramsey Garcia leads the Gophers with two interceptions.
Thad Gates, FHS principal, said that homecoming activities will continue as planned despite Coach McKane’s passing.
“It’s early, but we’re still thinking of ways to honor Coach McKane at the football game,” Gates said. “We’ll have a moment of silence, and I know some of the football players want to do something as well. We’re going to do the best we can.”
Homecoming activities continue at FHS today with the Powder Puff football game at 5 p.m., followed by the bonfire at 7:30 p.m.
On Friday, the homecoming parade begins at 1 p.m. on Main Street with the theme of “Celebrate with Pride.” Each high school class will honor one branch of the military – Army, ninth grade; Air Force, 10th grade; Marines, 11th grade; and Navy, 12th grade.
The homecoming dance is scheduled from 7-11 p.m. Saturday at the FHS cafetorium. The theme is “Written in the Stars.”
Sentinels rout Gophers
Chandler Seton Catholic scored 47 unanswered points on Sept. 4 as they went on to a 60-20 defeat of the Gophers in a Division IV, Section 4 contest at the FHS field.
Sentinels quarterback Kyle Johnson threw five touchdown passes and ran for two more TDs. He also completed 10 of 18 passes for 204 yards with no interceptions.
Wide receiver Brandon Garcia was the recipient of three of Johnson’s TD passes, scoring from 64, 25 and 18 yards out. Johnson also threw scoring passes to George Wolter (14 yards) and P.J. Del Rio (10 yards) while running for touchdowns of 3 and 8 yards.
“We played well and put together a pretty complete game,” Sentinels Coach Rex Bowser said. “I was very pleased with the way we played all the way around – offense and defense, special teams, the whole thing.
“We weren’t sure exactly what we would see from Florence defensively, so at first, we’re just kind of feeling around, trying to figure out what it is they’re doing and what we needed to do against them.”
The Sentinels (5-1, No. 3 in Division IV) figured out enough to build a 40-0 lead at halftime. They extended their lead to 47-0 until the Gophers (3-3) broke through on Ian Campos’ 4-yard touchdown run with 3:26 to play in the third quarter.
Campos rushed for 184 yards on 20 carries. He also had scoring runs of 4 and 1 yards in the fourth quarter. Running back Beau Griego gained 59 yards on eight attempts.
Florence quarterback Bobby Herrera completed 8 of 24 passes for 70 yards, but was intercepted three times.
“We’re so young, we needed this experience,” Steve McKane said. “What I mean is that no one obviously wants this to happen, but when it does, there’s always something to learn from it.”