FARMINGTON — The Heights Middle School football team has set itself up for the biggest day in team history.
Hermosa visits Heights in the final football game of the season for local middle schools. Along with special activities planned throughout the day, the Heights Knights will deliver the first-ever San Juan Basin football championship to the school.
"Our boys have had a great season. We came into the beginning of the season with the goal of going unbeaten and winning a Basin championship," said Heights head coach Lee Marett. "We knew we had a great group of kids, and it was something we could realistically obtain. Now, we are one step away from that."
Heights (6-0) is playing for its first-ever unbeaten season. Longtime coach Larry Conaway led the school to a few ninth-grade championships, but the Knights have yet to win an eighth-grade title.
The Knights have already guaranteed themselves the championship after C.V. Koogler Middle School finished 6-1. The Knights beat the defending champion Tigers in their first game of the season 21-16, thanks to a defensive stand in the final drive of the game. If Hermosa (5-1) defeats Heights today, Heights, Hermosa and Koogler would all finish the season 6-1. Koogler holds a tiebreaker over Hermosa after beating the Matadors, and Heights would own the tiebreaker against Koogler.
"If we play the way we have been playing the rest of the year, we don't have to worry about anything else," Marett said.
During an extended 20-minute halftime of today's game, both teams will honor veterans, as well as local police and firefighters, during a special veterans' appreciation ceremony. Members of the Aztec and Farmington Veterans of Foreign Wars posts will attend, along with members of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter. Shaun Goodsell, Heights' school resource officer, has also arranged for local first-responders to attend the event.
Players from both teams will present the American flag during the halftime ceremony, and VFW Post 614 will provide the color guard.
"We have a lot of people in this community that served ... and we want to make sure they understand the kids of this generation don't forget and they appreciate what they have done," said Heights assistant coach Eric Stovall. "It is a life lesson for our players. They have done a lot other things this week to give back to the community with a read-a-thon at the elementary school, and they will also walk kids to school (today). It is not just about teaching football to the kids, it is about giving back to the community as well."
Though the Knights have a busy schedule, the coaches said the team's focus won't stray from the game against Hermosa.
"Hermosa is a really strong team that is well coached by (Dennis) McGinley. They are going to come after us," Stovall said. "They have earned their 5-1 record. If we are fortunate enough to win this game, it will be a great way for us to end a special year."
This will be the final game for Marett as a head coach. After 40 years, he is retiring. He hopes the veterans event, paired with a big football game, will provide an ideal atmosphere for his exit.
"I have been fortunate to close out the last five years of my 40 years of coaching here at Heights, and I can't think of a better place to end my career," Marett said. "We are hoping the place is packed. We hope we have more people here than has ever been at a Heights football game. We hope the other Basin coaches and players come watch and the community comes to support their veterans."John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.