October 29, 2010
By Don Ketchum
The football team from Laveen Betty H. Fairfax might win more titles in the future, but it will take a lot of magic to be better than the first one.
The Stampede won their first Class 5A Metro Region championship on Thursday night (Oct. 28), 33-27, doing so in improbable fashion against host Phoenix Central.
With 30.2 seconds left, Fairfax gave up a touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Andrew Lobato to Dallas Nichols. The PAT by Alberto Camacho made it 27-25 and it appeared that Central was going to win its second straight Metro crown.
Lobato sealed the Central victory, or so he thought, with an interception on Fairfax’s first play from scrimmage. But Fairfax got new life when a flag was thrown (so many were thrown against both teams that fans lost count) for pass interference.
Time was running out, so Fairfax quarterback Kurtis Walls lofted a pass deep into Central territory, along the left sideline. Receiver Walter Wallace had gotten behind his defender, and the 6-foot-3, 170-pound junior reached up with one hand and secured the ball with one foot inbounds for a first down at the Central 9.
On the next snap, Walls looked for Wallace again. Wallace ran his out route just inside the goal line and Walls got him the ball for the touchdown with 11.9 seconds left. Brandon Jones ran the two-point conversion (Fairfax kicker Alex Hernandez was injured earlier). Both benches were stunned, but then Fairfax’s sideline erupted as the final seconds ticked away.
It was an unbelievable game.
Some of the game’s fanciest footwork came as Fairfax coach Kevin Belcher attemped to elude players who were attempting to douse him with a cold victory shower. Belcher didn’t quite stay dry, but it didn’t matter.
“It was a testament to our kids. They didn’t give up,’’ said Belcher, who formerly coached at Central.
“It is our goal to be great for 48 minutes, but that isn’t going to happen very often. You are going to have your good days and your bad days. You just try to have more good ones than bad ones.’’
Fairfax climbed to 7-2 overall, 7-0 in region. Central fell to 6-4 and 6-2.
Wallace seemed just as stunned as anyone else.
“We found a way and we stepped up,’’ he said.
“This is the first thing I’ve ever won in my life and it is the greatest thing ever.’’
He didn’t care that no passes were thrown his way earlier.
“What matters is that I was able to help the team when they needed me,’’ he said.
Hernandez, who had returned one of four Fairfax interceptions for a touchdown earlier in the game from his linebacker spot, suffered a knee injury. Another starting linebacker who had an interception, Jose Zuniga, also went out with a knee injury.
Lobato gave it all he had for Central, completing 20 of 44 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a TD. His 1-yard touchdown run with 9:10 left in the game came after Fairfax mishandled a kickoff, with Brando Ponce recovering the ball at the 1.
Fairfax made up for the kickoff miscue with a play at the opposite end of the spectrum. Deven Proby returned the next one 78 yards for a touchdown with nine minutes left in the game.
Belcher credited Central for its tough play.
“I respect their team and coach Todd (Williamson) because I know how much work they put in,’’ Belcher said. “I hope they have a chance to get into the playoffs, too.’’