When Sean Fitzsimmons rushed for a single-game state-record 516 yards on 28 carries last Friday night, it cemented his place in Arizona prep history for many years to come.
The Empire senior captain joined D.J. Foster, formerly of Saguaro and now at ASU, as just the only players in the state to surpass 500 yards in one game and shattered Ka’Deem Carey’s Southern Arizona big-school record by nearly 100 yards.
“I just wanted to rush for as many yards as I could in that game and be happy with it,” Fitzsimmons said. “I wanted to make sure it was the best night that I could show to everybody and myself.”
However, it was more than just the numbers.
Even though Fitzsimmons did all that in the final home game of his career and will likely suit up in a Ravens uniform for the last time tonight when they play at Douglas, what he did will have an everlasting effect on Empire’s football program as it tries to become one of the Division III powers.
“I want to build this program to when people think of Division III, Empire gets into the conversation,” first-year coach W.T. Jeffries said. “There’s so many good teams in it like Sabino, Canyon del Oro and Catalina Foothills just to name a few.
“They’re the gold standard, and we’ve got to get to that point.”
In addition to Fitzsimmons’ totals, fellow senior captain Chance Hatfield ran for 248 yards, and the Ravens finished with 843 yards as a team, which also set a state record. Jeffries said he’s still in shock about the game, an 82-55 win over Catalina.
“We just showed that, even though we’re a small school with a small population, we can still go out there, work hard and beat state records,” senior lineman Seth Powell said.
The Ravens had made the state playoffs five straight seasons heading into this year, but that streak is likely over, barring a miracle tonight. Empire is ranked 24th, eight spots from being in the mix.
However, this season has been much different compared to the last five. Quarterback Grayson Weeks, a good friend of Fitzsimmons’ who would have been a senior this year, was killed in a car accident last December, and Jorge Mendivil, Empire’s athletic director and the team’s original coach, wasn’t renewed by the school. But last Friday showed how stoked the Ravens could be.
“My heart was into the game, and I had Grayson next to me,” Fitzsimmons said. I didn’t want to let him down because it was senior night; I wanted to make him very proud.”
Fitzsimmons also overcame some adversity of his own. He was on the team last year but didn’t play because he was injured. He also missed most of his sophomore year so this is his first complete season, but it could be his last. He said it’s always been a dream of his to be a firefighter; that’s what he’s going to study in college. He’d still like to play football but doesn’t want to risk his future for it. Regardless, he’ll always have last Friday night to look back on.
“The tempo never really changed, even when they came to us saying he was about to break the state record,” senior lineman C.J. McAviney said. “We just do our job so we can make all these guys get the ball and look good.”
Colwill, Nighthawks finish in top 10 at state
Ironwood Ridge junior Sydney Colwill shot a 1-over 73 on Thursday to match her score from the first day of the girls golf Division I state championship and finish tied for sixth place while the Nighthawks tied for fifth as a team. Phoenix Xavier won, led by Hannah O’Sullivan, who shot a 140 through the two days at Aguila Golf Course in Laveen.
I-Ridge teammates Abby Miller and Victoria Browning both shot 163 through 36 holes to tie for 29th, and Marana’s Vanessa Leiterman finished with a 168 and tied for 36th.
Red Wolves could make history tonight with win
If the Walden Grove football team can win its fifth straight game tonight, the Red Wolves (5-4) would lock up their first winning season and would be in a good position to make the state playoffs for the first time.
Walden Grove, which went 5-5 in its inaugural season last year and started the season 0-3, is ranked 16th heading into tonight’s home game against No. 9 Safford, which also has won four straight games and has clinched a playoff berth.
If you can’t make it down to Sahuarita for the game, mybroadcastbox.com will be broadcasting from Walden Grove live at 6:50 p.m.
Watch live as fall brackets released today, Saturday
The Arizona Interscholastic Association will broadcast live selection shows over the next two days on aia365.com to release the brackets for the fall state tournaments. Girls volleyball teams will find out where they’re going today at 3 p.m. Football teams will have to wait until Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
Division II football final kickoff is moved up
The AIA announced Wednesday that the Division II state championship game, which is going to played at Arizona Stadium on Nov. 29, will be played at 6 p.m. rather than 7:30. The Division III state final will also be held at the UA at 1 p.m., as originally planned.
Marana hosting state cross country qualifier
Most cross country runners and teams from Southern Arizona will flock to Marana High School on Saturday morning to try to qualify for next Saturday’s state championship meet. The top 25 individuals and top half of teams from each section will advance. The Division III boys begin the day at 8:15 a.m., and races follow every 45 minutes in this order: Div. III girls, Div. IV boys, Div. IV girls, Div. II boys, Div. II girls.