Mountain Ridge football

Mountain Ridge football — seen here huddling at practice — began 2019 with its first 2-0 start in nearly a decade.

For a Mountain Ridge team that went winless in 2018, and carried a multiple-season, 16-game losing streak into the current football season, a 2-0 start in 2019 — Ridge’s first such opening since 2010 — would seem satisfying.

It wasn’t.

Why?

“Because 2-0 only guarantees 2-8, and I didn’t come here to go 2-8,” said first-year coach Doug Madoski, who took over the program this spring.

“At the end of the day it’s a good start from the standpoint that we are as good as we possibly can be, but that’s just a small part of the season.”

If the Mountain Lions want to rid themselves of the stain of past losses — something senior quarterback Keegan Stancato hopes to accomplish in 2019 — it will take more than a couple of wins to do so.

“Now that’s made us hungry for more. We want to be competing with the other 6A teams in our region and be one of the teams that people respect,” Stancato said.

But an opening-day road win against a tough Skyline team was a quality start. In Madoski’s first game on the Mountain Lion sideline, he noticed his players looked nervous when, after taking a large lead, the Coyotes threatened to mount a comeback. Ridge was able to hold them off and the team seemingly had a true belief it could be a winner. That showed in a thrilling 16-13 victory clinched in the final seconds on a field goal and even a 42-36 win over playoff-regular Westview to reach 3-0.

“When Skyline started to make some plays, it almost looked like, ‘Here we go again,’ versus just a week later when we’ve got one play left and an untimed down, you could see they were ready to go and try to win the game,” Madoski said.

Besides just a noted improvement in the standings, Madoski said he recognized early that he had a group of kids who were not weighed down by losses in spring practices. After many years of heading the now-defunct Scottsdale Community College football team — he now coaches the Maricopa Mustangs in the newly formed HJCAC junior-college level — he was surprised by how dedicated his new high school players were too, as the slogan goes, “Restore the Ridge.”

The Mountain Lions say their mantra every day, and Madoski has seen it in action.

“With JUCO kids, when they’re not successful, they start to tank. With this group, despite not getting many wins and the circumstances that they were in, I was surprised to see how much effort they put in and desire to get in and be good. That’s really promising,” Madoski said.

Mountain Ridge’s schedule will be tough to end the season. The 6A Desert Valley region it plays in boasts four 2018 playoff teams and an O’Connor squad that defeated it 54-8 last year. A few more surprise victories and close games in a deadly region could realistically have Mountain Ridge in play for a postseason appearance. There are many games to come before even thinking about that, though.

Regardless of the team’s final record in 2019, the players who stuck with the Mountain Lions are seeing their devotion pay off in a positive culture change that will show for years to come, and maybe more victories to show for it in 2019.

“After we went 0-6 or something like that, everybody was tired of losing. They wanted to just get the season over with,” Stancato said. “Now, it’s not that anymore at all. We are dedicated, and I want to see what we can do. And we’re proud of what’s been accomplished so far.”