The dirt spread across the Mountain Ridge football players’ all-white uniforms just minutes after the conclusion of their season appeared a metaphor for the digging the Mountain Lions did to get to the playoffs.
Tears were shed by several players after Friday’s 38-25 road loss to Perry in Gilbert. Ending the season after the first round of the 6A postseason brought sadness but also recognition of the accomplishments the team made in 2019.
“We came in here with the mindset that we could win. And we were in it, the cards just didn’t fall in our favor, but I know I’m so proud of everyone here,” said senior linebacker Tommy Ellis.
The Mountain Lions turned around from an 0-10 season in 2018.
Players grew tired of hearing about the losing seasons but had yet to put streaks of wins together. With the addition of coach Doug Madoski and a 34-21 opening day victory over Skyline – the first of three consecutive wins kickstarted 2019 – things seemed to be swinging Mountain Ridge’s way seemingly overnight. The team went 5-5 in one of the state’s toughest regions and secured wins over westside powerhouses Westview and Liberty along the way to reach the postseason.
There were tough losses along the way, including two blowout defeats to Chaparral and Pinnacle.
But, unlike seasons past, heads nor spirits dropped.
“We went from a mindset of wanting to just compete, not get blown out to some of the good teams, to now saying we can beat them and win games. That’s been one of the biggest takeaways,” said quarterback Keegan Stancato.
Madoski ushered in a new attitude, after coaching the now-defunct Scottsdale Community College football team for several years.
Low points of previous years, Madoski said, made the victories even sweeter.
“It’s the same guys that went on that long losing streak. We didn’t really have transfers. They believed in themselves and made it all the way to the playoffs. I can’t say enough good things about them,” he said.
Gone next season will be this year’s graduating senior class, including Ellis, Keegan Stancato and his brother Kyler Stancato. But there are several skilled underclassmen set to step up following their contributions to the team and willingness to take on leadership roles. Mountain Ridge looks to be set up for continued success in future seasons.
For at least one night though, the parents and supporters of the Mountain Lions that made the long drive from Glendale to Gilbert celebrated the season and end of several high school careers. Hugs abounded, dirty white jerseys and all.
“The change we’ve had from the offseason until now, ever over the last four years, we’ve had the lowest of lows and then experienced some pretty great highs,” Ellis said.
“It’s been a ride.”