Feelings of accomplishment overshadow Padres’ loss of championship football title

In the final minutes of the Arizona 5A Division II Championship, when it was painfully clear that Marco de Niza’s hopes of the school first football title would not be fulfilled, senior tackle Eduardo Rodriguez felt the crushing blow of disappointment.

The Padres fell to Scottsdale Chaparral by a 34-21 margin at Sun Devil Stadium on Dec. 11, leaving Rodriguez to ponder the fickle nature of destiny.

“It’s hard to understand, really,’’ Rodriguez said a few days later. “We practiced hard and our coaches really did a great job of preparing us for the game. Chaparral is a great team and I’m not taking anything away from them, but we didn’t play up to our potential. We just didn’t show up with our best.’’

In the days that have followed that loss, senior players like Rodriguez have found that the disappointment has yielded to another emotion, one of accomplishment.

“I can look back now and say we did something that no other Marcos de Niza team has ever done,’’ Rodriguez said.

“We made it to the state championship. It really was a Cinderella story, even if it didn’t end exactly the way we wanted it to end.’’

Although the Padres had their share of star players, the 2009 team was perhaps best personified by players such as Rodriguez. At a shade over six feet tall and weighing just 220 pounds, Rodriguez is far from the ideal size for a defensive tackle. What he lacks in stature is compensated for by toughness and drive. And it would be that trait more than any other than helped Marcos to make its improbable run to the championship game.

In fact, few gave Marcos a chance to reach the title game, not with powerhouse Glendale Centennial standing in the Padres’ way. Given that, it could be argued that the Padres’ ultimate moment came in the penultimate game of the season.

Centennial, the three-time defending state champions, came into the game against Marcos as a prohibitive favorite, riding a 39-game winning streak and a No. 4 national ranking by USA Today.

In a game perfectly suited to a defensive tackle such as Rodriguez, the Padres dumped the Coyotes 16-14 in a tough, gritty defensive battle played on Dec. 4 at Phoenix North Canyon High School.

And almost from the moment the game ended, the Padres players found themselves swept up in a wave of emotion that extended well beyond the Marcos de Niza campus.

“It was crazy at school the next Monday, but really, it started even before we got back to school. It was everywhere you went. I was wearing a Marcos T-shirt the next day and people were coming up and saying, “Yeah, Marcos!’’ It was really cool.’’

Now that he’s had some time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past two weeks, Rodriguez says a few things continue to come to the surface.

“I think the best thing about it was being with this band of brothers,’’ he said. “When we were freshmen four years ago, we all said that we were going to the state championship game before we left. Going into this season, there was just this connection with the seniors. Nobody had to even say it: We knew what our goal was.’’

So, on that chilly Dec. 11 evening, when the Padres left the locker room to take the field at Sun Devil Stadium, Rodriguez took a moment to look around and try to soak it all in.

“I just looked up in the stands,’’ he said, “and thought to myself, ‘So this is how it feels.’ I had been to Sun Devil Stadium before, but I was always in the stands watching the players on the field. Now, it was just the other way. I was out there with my brothers, looking up at the stands and it seemed like the whole community was up there, standing and cheering.

“It was a real moment. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.’’

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