‘Next Man Up’ mentality makes Arcadia a playoff prospect

Keon Okyere (photo by Jennifer Turelli)

Keon Okyere (photo by Jennifer Turelli)

In life, there are not always second chances, but the Arcadia Titans have a second chance on Friday at 7 p.m. to right their past after the playoffs slipped out of their hands one year ago.

Arcadia sits at 7-2 with the playoffs very much in sight. They take on a 2-7 team at home in McClintock High School and a potential playoff appearance is on the line.

Senior linebacker and captain Dylan Turelli and the rest of the Titans hope the story will end differently in 2015.

“Last year we were in the same situation against Cactus Shadows,” Turelli said in an Oct. 26 phone interview. “We were 7-2, they were 2-7. We knew we needed to win to guarantee our playoff spot and we ended up losing that game. It was a tough game, but we still should’ve won. I think the memory of that is still pretty bitter to us and we need to make sure we handle our business here and try to get into the playoffs. We’d rather create our own destiny than leave it up to the people deciding the playoffs.”

That season-ending 41-28 loss in 2014 is giving the Titans a new perspective this season as they prepare to take on the McClintock Chargers.

“We just want to win,” Arcadia head coach Lenny Abt said in an Oct. 26 phone interview. “Every game is a playoff for us. Wherever we land will take care of itself.”

As of Wednesday, according to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s website, the Titans are ranked No. 6 in the Division III rankings. With many one or two-loss teams behind them, a loss on Friday could mean missing the playoffs.

Coach Abt has instilled a playoff mentality in his team since early in section play and he says that should help the Titans to focus on the game itself, not the Chargers’ record.

“After we lost that Tempe game, every game was a playoff mentality,” he said. “We’re going into it the same way, not concentrating on their record. We’re just going to try to take care of business.”

Next man up

The Titans have thrived this season thanks to “Next Man Up” mantra that is often cliché in sports. For the Titans, it has been a brutal reality that they have fought through together.

After their leading rusher, junior Ryan Alexandre, went down with a season-ending injury, senior Keon Okyere carried the load in the backfield.

“I’ve been practicing the same way, I’ve been playing the same way (as before Alexandre’s injury),” Okyere said in an Oct. 26 phone interview. “I knew I had to step in and fill Ryan’s place.”

In their most recent matchup against Apache Junction, Okyere suffered an injury that knocked him out of the game after scoring three times in the first quarter. Once again, it was time for the next man to step up.

“When (Okyere) did get hurt, we had guys step in and they performed well,” Coach Abt said. “The next man’s stepping up and everybody’s working hard and taking those opportunities and going with it. It’s tough with any injury, but the kids are stepping up for each other and for the team.”

The Titans won the game versus Apache Junction 52-41 to improve to 7-2.

Balanced attack

One of the other reasons the Titans are sitting at 7-2 with a potential playoff appearance in their future is their balanced offense.

Through the first eight games, according to MaxPreps.com, the Titans average 122.8 passing yards per game and 121.8 rushing yards per game.

“We’re just working hard,” Coach Abt said. “The players, the coaches, we want to try to keep a balance, a good mix on offense and defense. The game dictates whether we run a little more, pass a little more. We’re all after the same goal and we’re all just working hard trying to get back in the playoffs with some positive things on the field.”

Sophomore quarterback Luke Ashworth has grown into his position as the season has progressed and he leads the team with 1,105 passing yards and 13 touchdown passes on the season so far.

Senior wide receiver Riley Erickson has been his favorite target, as he has caught 36 passes for 448 yards and four touchdowns.

The rushing attack has been characterized by the “Next Man Up” mentality and the Titans had a player rush for over 100 yards in six of their first eight games, according to MaxPreps.com.

Same situation, different year

Arcadia will have a chance to avenge a lost opportunity from a season ago, and the Titans are keeping the playoff mentality they have embraced since a loss to Tempe on Oct. 2.

“We’re going in with our heads high,” Okyere said. “We’re not changing our perspective at all. We know we can’t take this game off, we’re just going to play hard like we have before.”

Taking the fundamental parts of the game seriously will help the Titans take control of the game.

“I know that (McClintock) has some pretty good athletes that they can get the ball to in space,” Turelli said. “We’re going to need to have a good week of tackling and flowing to the ball.”

The goal for the season was set in stone during the triple-digit days of August and now it is within reach.

“Pre-season, to a man, we talked to them and one of our team goals was to get back to the playoffs,” Coach Abt said. “We focus on that and make sure we’re all on the same page for that goal.”

This year, the 2-7 record of their opponent won’t weigh heavy on Arcadia’s mind.

“We’re not paying attention to their record,” Okyere said. “We’re just going to play them like they’re any other team.”

Scottsdale Independent Sports Correspondent Justin Maskulinski can be contacted at jmaskulinski@newszap.com. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/Maskulinski.

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