Hugs abounded and some happy tears fell from the faces of La Joya Community Lobos football players after a 41-21 victory over Westview on October 25.
The win signified more than just the first victory over their Avondale rivals in 18 tries and a first-ever region championship, but also an awarding moment on senior night for a team that has worked diligently to change its reputation to playoff contenders from a losing program.
The latter reputation had stuck with the team even after it boasted a 7-3 record last season. The AIA ranking system placed La Joya outside of the top 16, and the season was over in a matter of seconds, leaving several stunned players unsure of how to react. Many even were moved to tears. Westview handed the Lobos their third and final loss in 2018, so the ending to last year was vivid in the players’ minds as the final seconds ran off the clock on the recent Friday night.
“It’s been a long time coming, and it means everything to these kids,” said coach Devin Dourisseau.
“It’s very emotional for a lot of us returning varsity players from last year, because we were crying hard after what happened. It just feels so good right now,” added senior quarterback Miguel Valdovinos.
A victory over Tolleson, nowhere near a given in a heated district game where the Wolverines will look to play spoiler, moved the Lobos to 8-2, and all-but-guaranteed a playoff berth. The Lobos entered the tournament as the No. 10 seed.
The road to this point has come with its bumps, though.
The Lobos started 1-2, with consecutive 40-point losses coming to Chaparral and Basha on back-to-back Fridays. Weeks later, Dourisseau temporarily resigned after a conflict with school officials alleging he ran up the score in a mid-season game, only to return to the field a couple days later in a victory over Valley Vista.
The Lobos have also suffered season-ending injuries to two of their most talented, emotional leaders in senior receiver Carlos Fernandez and junior linebacker Zach Blackwood. But, they are not letting the difficulties sway them.
“These guys have played through it and risen to the occasion,” Dourisseau said.
More than that, Fernandez said, the struggles have made La Joya better as a collective unit, though he wishes he could be out there to help his teammates on the field.
“It’s made us much closer. I told them now that they have something to play for. Play for me and like I would,” Fernandez said.
The players and coaching staff has overcome a lot in the 2019 season, regardless of the playoff outcome. La Joya Community appears in a solid position moving forward.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Valdovinos said. “I’m just so blessed.”
The Lobos head to Peoria to face the No. 7 Liberty Lions this Friday.