Bagdad finished off what it couldn’t in the three of the past four seasons and won something that it hadn’t officially claimed since the school opened in the late 1940s.
Bagdad High won a state football championship. It finally happened.
It’s not as if the team didn’t try to win a title in recent years, but it failed to advance past the state semifinals three times. But with its size and skill, there was no stopping Bagdad this year.
Ten teams tried and failed, including a plucky Mogollon squad that knew the best team won Saturday’s Division VI 8-man title game at Shadow Mountain.
“You won it fair and square,” said Mogollon’s heart and soul, Dallyn Despain, as he shook the hands of Bagdad’s players, congratulating them for winning 44-20.
But Mogollon made Bagdad earn its first 8-man state trophy.
Bagdad didn’t clinch this game until it converted a 3rd and 37 with a touchdown pass (It really did happen.) late in the third quarter and thwarted a 4th and 1 attempt by Mogollon at the start of the fourth quarter.
First-year quarterback Tony Juaregui’s final touchdown of the season, his fourth in the game, came on a fade pattern that ended with James Loveall catching the ball for a 49-yard touchdown play. Two plays before that play, Bagdad was actually facing a 2nd and 54 from its 35.
Loveall’s touchdown and a two-point conversion gave his team a 36-20 lead.
“We were confident we could still get it done on that drive,” Loveall said.
Another Bagdad receiver, Kody Low, also made a highlight reel play in the second half when he dove and caught the ball in the end zone in the third quarter, pushing Bagdad’s lead to 28-14 after Low’s 39-yard touchdown catch.
But Mogollon (10-2), as it has all season long, continued to fight. A Bagdad fumble led to a Despain short touchdown run, cutting Bagdad’s lead to 28-20 with 3:51 remaining in the third quarter
But that’s as close as Mogollon got the rest of the game.
“It (title) is extra special for me,” said head coach Dalton Mills, who graduated from Bagdad.
A couple of Bagdad High’s ambassadors and likely most of Bagdad’s residents attended Saturday’s game. Bagdad won a mythical 6-man state championship in 1952, and four players who were on that team were at Shadow Mountain Saturday.
Jerry Albright, Frank Castro, Charles Foster and Jim Billingsly, members of Bagdad’s 1952 team, congratulated Bagdad’s players after Saturday’s game. Castro said that Bagdad opened its doors in 1948.
It had been a long time since Bagdad won some sort of football title, but the smiles across Bagdad’s current and former players' faces was an indication that it was well worth the wait.
(Photo of 1952 Bagdad team that won a mythical 6-man state title in 1952. Photo courtesy of Jim Billingsly.)