The Carl Hayden High Falcons — Who Endured the Longest Losing Streak in the Nation — Win Again

Carl Hayden High School place-kicker Jorge Paredes found himself shuffling aimlessly on the opponent's 30-yard-line.

It was a time-out, and in a few moments the outcome of the game last Friday night would ride on his left foot.

Jorge isn't the best kicker in the world, but just minutes earlier, and with no time left in regulation, he had knocked through a tying 20-yarder to send the game against the Alhambra High Lions into overtime.

The game was at Alhambra on 37th Avenue and Camelback. It was Homecoming Night at the Phoenix school, and a large crowd was present for what most suspected would be a stomping of the Falcons.

Earlier this season, Carl Hayden snapped its 66-game, 6½-year losing streak with a win that made national news, over the San Luis High Sidewinders.

But the 44-21 win over San Luis, while heaven-sent for the school's beleaguered football program, had an unofficial asterisk attached to it:

San Luis, on the borders of Arizona, California and Mexico, wouldn't come close to winning a game this year, and scored in only two of its 10 contests.

The weeks after Carl Hayden's September 17 win had been more momentous for the team and school off the field than on.

What followed were the 15 minutes of fame afforded the team's players, head coach Cleveland Dansby, and school principal Steve Ybarra. The victory had snapped the nation's longest high school losing streak.

The U.S. Army and the Arizona Cardinals named Dansby Coach of the Week, essentially for hanging in for so long before finally winning a game. The entire student body cheered as one as the players shaved Principal Ybarra's head during a celebration at Falcons Field a day after the win over the Sidewinders.

New Times published a cover story on the Carl Hayden team ("Friday Night Frights," October 22), which portrayed the Falcons as a gritty bunch of kids who refused to quit despite the odds against them — on and off the gridiron.

Carl Hayden students are from one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Valley.

But reality, as it usually does, soon intruded.

The Falcons returned to their usual role as whipping boy, getting beaten in the next six games by an average of 48-9 going into the season finale against Alhambra.

But all wasn't bleak, even if another victory in 2009 seemed far-fetched.

Michael Morris, a guidance counselor at the inner-city school (and a freshman football coach), spoke before the Alhambra game about positive ramifications resulting from the New Times piece.

Within weeks after the story bounced around Valley streets and on the Internet, Morris said, recruiters from colleges in Arizona and around the nation called the school to ask about some of the players profiled.

On top of the list were Carl Hayden's big linemen, Tre Fields, Marquis Douglass, and Emmanuel Caddy. The three seniors weigh about 310, 290, and 270 pounds, respectively, and each has raw, barely tapped ability.

"We are really excited," Morris said. "Every one of those guys on the team deserves a chance to go to college, whether they're playing football or not, but some of them got a lot of ball left in them."

Alhambra was no world-beater, but the team played several close games over the course of the season and had beaten a Camelback squad that subsequently pounded Carl Hayden into submission.

The Alhambra game began with unusual promise for Carl Hayden.

Both teams seemed evenly matched, and the first half ended with the Lions leading, but only by a score of 9-7.

The Falcons then took a 14-9 lead early in the third quarter on a playground-type halfback pass from Chazz Walton to a leaping Alejandro Mirando.

The momentum was Carl Hayden's, but not for long.

A bad snap from center into the Falcons' end zone led to an Alhambra touchdown and a 17-14 lead.

As time wound down in the final period, it seemed as if Carl Hayden would suffer a painfully close loss.

The Falcons had one final shot to tie or win the game outright, starting on their own 25-yard line with less than three minutes to go in the game.

This was not a team that had proved its mettle in such situations.

But something was different on this night.

Junior quarterback Ulises Contreras connected on pass after pass, and Carl Hayden moved quickly down the field.

The team reached Alhambra's 1-yard-line with less than 30 seconds to go.

Then, in two excruciating plays, the Falcons stalled, actually moving backward a few yards.

It was fourth down with one second (a single tick) left on the play clock, and Coach Dansby and his staff decided to attempt a field-goal to tie the game instead of going for the win. A risky proposition to be sure, but Jorge Paredes came through with his short boot.

It was 17-17.

Alhambra had the first chance to score in overtime, but the Lions' kicker hooked his field-goal attempt left of the goalposts.

Then, Carl Hayden failed to move the ball on its first two plays from the opponent's 10-yard-line. (That's where they place the ball during overtime in Arizona high school football games). On third down, they stuck 310-pound co-captain Tre Fields — the team's heart and soul — into the fullback position and handed him the ball.

Fields moves surprisingly quickly, and he barreled his way to the 5-yard-line before a bevy of Alhambra players wrested him down.

That's when Jorge Paredes wandered around the field waiting to try the game-winning field goal, as the Lions' coach called a time-out to try to freeze him.

Finally, it was time to perform.

The snap, hold, and kick were perfect. The ball sailed through the uprights, coming to rest on the track about 20 yards beyond, and Hayden won by three points.

The Alhambra players collapsed in a heap.

The Carl Hayden players celebrated as if they had just won the Super Bowl, not finished with a 2-8 record that, for most schools, would signify a dismal season.

After the post-game handshakes with the Lions, Fields and fellow co-captains Gaby Montrero and Andres Renteria led teammates in one last group exercise of jumping jacks and squats.

The coaches, Dansby, Jeff Kunes and Paul Ferrero, hugged each other and watched their usually outmanned boys celebrate. Principal Ybarra stood there grinning and congratulating everyone in sight.

Coach Dansby finally gathered everyone around him at midfield and spoke from his heart. His career record at Carl Hayden is now 2-48, but this victory would be as big as any in his long and (before Hayden) successful coaching career.

"Guys," Dansby said, his voice raspy from coaching and from emotion, "I've been telling you all year that good memories were going to come out of this experience.

"This is the sweet stuff, the way you are feeling right now about your teammates, about yourselves, and maybe a little bit about us coaches. Whatever you do from this point on, wherever you go, you won't forget this. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever! And I won't either, man."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin