Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008 | 12:45 a.m.
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This was no ordinary loss for the Clark Chargers football team.
For a program best known for its 42-game losing streak, Friday night’s 20-14 setback to host Sierra Vista might have been even harder to stomach.
A victory would have put the Chargers into the postseason for the first time since 2001. But that spot, the No. 4 seed from the Southwest Division, went to Sierra Vista.
Clark snapped its four-year skid last year with two victories, and while most teams on its schedule still believed the Chargers would be a guaranteed victory, they felt otherwise.
“No one expected us in the playoffs,” Clark coach Don Willis said. “Everyone in town was still wondering if we would win a game.”
Clark (2-7, 2-4) has won two games, and it could’ve easily been three Friday night.
The Chargers rushed for 220 yards on 48 carries and used the effective ground attack to move the ball into Sierra Vista territory with five minutes to play and trailing by six.
But consecutive penalties pushed Clark back 25 yards and it turned the ball over on downs. Sierra Vista proceeded to pick up three first downs and Clark didn’t get the ball back until there were five seconds to play.
With one play left and needing to go 50 yards for the equalizer, Clark didn’t quit. The players remained optimistic and believed they could still win.
That never-say-die attitude is something that wasn’t present during the losing streak. But Willis, now in his third year, is credited with turning the program around.
“Everything we have accomplished is because of coach Willis,” senior running back Quincy Hatcher said. “He pushes us to do better and really looks out for us.”
Sierra Vista running back Akil Sharp did most of the damage, rushing for 182 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. His 13-yard touchdown with 13.9 seconds to play in the third quarter was the game-winner.
“He’s the man,” Sierra Vista coach Mark Sauve said of Sharp. “He’s the leader of this team.”
Clark, which had twice rallied from touchdown deficits, couldn’t muster another scoring drive. It was a tough end to an otherwise memorable season, said quarterback Anthony Lotta.
Sure, winning two games and missing the playoffs is far from a successful season. But the players have cherished the past two years and have grown from dealing with the trials and tribulations of the streak.
“Coach Willis taught us to believe in ourselves,” Lotta said. “We were better than year’s past because we worked harder than year’s past.”
Willis became Clark’s third coach in as many years when he was hired in the spring of 2006. The Oklahoma transplant promised Principal Ronnie Tee Smith he would stay with the program through good times and bad.
The Chargers didn’t win a game in Willis’ first season, but they have gradually improved.
“The kids have learned not to quit,” Smith said. “They’ve realized the commitment it takes and have shown the heart and courage to improve.”
Andre Clay rushed for 92 yards on 23 carries to lead Clark, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds to play in the first quarter to even the score at seven.
Lotta found Devohn Marks for a 5-yard scoring strike for the Chargers other points.
Clark closes its season Oct. 30 against Western in a game some would view as meaningless. Just don’t tell that to the Clark players who understand it will be one last hurrah under the Friday night lights.
“I’m very proud of everything we’ve worked for,” Hatcher said. “We still have one more game and we aren’t going to give up.”
Sports Editor Ray Brewer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-2662.