Tears of anger and frustration last year flipped to tears of joy for La Joya Community High School football players after a 41-21 victory over Westview on Oct. 25.
The win signified more than just the first victory over their Avondale rivals, in 18 tries, and a first-ever region championship. It also came on Senior Night for a team that has worked diligently to change its reputation from a losing program to playoff contenders.
The losing-program reputation had stuck with the team even after it sailed to 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. 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.
“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 Miguel Valdovinos.
The senior quarterback tossed 36 touchdowns and over 2,500 yards through nine games, leading the Lobos to a 7-2 record.
The Lobos landed a playoff spot with a thrilling 56-41 win over Tolleson Nov. 1. The road to the playoffs came 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. It was short-lived, as he returned a few days late to coach 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. Yet, 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 Tolleson score, and with or without a playoff spot to cap it off. While a chance to avenge some losses against the state’s tougher teams and continue a dream season would be fantastic, the win over Westview, securing yet-another winning season is a reward in itself. 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.”