Lightning strikes again for Vipers in Week 2

XAVIER JAMES, 6, of Verrado chases a teammate during preseason practices. The Vipers had to cancel their game against Sabino Sept. 4 because of lightning. The game will not be rescheduled. View photo by Ray Thomas
XAVIER JAMES, 6, of Verrado chases a teammate during preseason practices. The Vipers had to cancel their game against Sabino Sept. 4 because of lightning. The game will not be rescheduled. View photo by Ray Thomas

Cancellation leaves Verrado with just 9 games this year

The words “lightning” and “Week 2” have become synonymous in Derek Wahlstrom’s tenure at Verrado.

For the third time in five seasons, the Verrado coach has had lightning mess with a Week 2 home game. Lightning hit Verrado following the first quarter of the Sept. 4 game against Tucson Sabino, and hadn’t gone away for an hour and a half when the game was called off.

As the first quarter came to an end, trainers and administration said we needed to vacate the field,” Wahlstrom said. “We tried to wait it out, and it looked like we had a chance to.”

Any lightning strike in the area puts a mandatory 30-minute delay on the game, per National Federation of State High School Associations rules. The teams had already waited more than an hour and were only 10 minutes away from being able to return to the field, but another strike of lightning hit.

It happened several times to where both [Sabino] coach [Jay] Campos and I, we were concerned about our athletes being able to go out and compete without potential of pulling muscles and so on,” Wahlstrom said. “We had warmed up, played a full quarter, and now you’re sitting down for 1:15, 1:20. After that last [lightning strike], we still had a half hour, and that’s not to say there wouldn’t be another lighting strike that would start the clock all over again.”

At that point, the teams were left with a few choices. They could have continued waiting, scheduled the game for another day or cancelled it completely. They chose the last option.

We were looking at what potential dates would be appropriate for us to make up the game,” Wahlstrom said.

They could have scheduled the game on a Monday, but that would cram three games into an eight-day span.

I think both teams have the opportunity to be playoff contenders, and it would be a shame to do that because it’s not just playing that game on a Monday following a Friday game, but there’s going to be a long lasting impact on our athletes’ bodies,” Wahlstrom said.

Playing the game Sept. 5, the next day, was also a possibility, but Wahlstrom said it was not equitable.

They would have had to sleep in the gym – they didn’t bring anything to sleep with – or they would have had to travel three hours back and three hours up Saturday,” Wahlstrom said. “It’s not something that would have been appropriate to expect them to do that. For that reason, we decided to just eliminate that game.”

Taking the game off the schedule gives Verrado a nine-game schedule, which changes their formula in figuring out their power-points ranking. It also means the Vipers won’t get credit for anything from Sabino, which was already 2-0 and had won its first two games handily.

That’s one of the biggest drawbacks for me,” Wahlstrom said. “We wanted to improve our strength of schedule, and now that’s been eliminated. But, we’ve got to do what’s in the best interest of our student athletes.”

Playing well

Another drawback to losing the game, especially on that night, was the way Verrado was playing. The Vipers had a 3-0 lead after one quarter and could have been up by even more.

Verrado had a good series to open the game, but fumbled the ball through the back of the end zone on a long passing play, turning the ball over.

On the next drive, the Vipers had a fourth-and-short situation but came up inches shy of the line of gain, which was the Sabino 30-yard line.

Verrado’s third possession would have resulted in a touchdown, but an illegal man downfield penalty took away the score, and the Vipers had to settle for a field goal instead.

Meanwhile, the Sabercats were scuffling.

I think they had one first down, other than by penalty,” Wahlstrom said. “The thing was, it was still 3-0. All it takes is one pass play or one big play on their part and they’re ahead 7-3. From our perspective, we were doing extremely well.”

The last play of the first quarter was a 20-yard gain for Verrado, which got them into Sabino territory again, Wahlstrom said.

Had we continued to play without the delay, I like what our chances would have been,” Wahlstrom said.

Verrado’s next opponent is Yuma Gila Ridge, at 7 tonight in Yuma. Although the Vipers had to prepare all week for Yuma, Wahlstrom doesn’t want to just forget what the team accomplished against Sabino, even though it doesn’t count.

By whatever rankings are out there, they’re considered to be a top-10 program throughout the state,” Wahlstrom said of Sabino. “So we don’t want to forget it because we were competing in a very successful manor against a quality opponent with a long history of success. We definitely don’t want to forget it, we want to build off of it.”

In 2011, Verrado had its Week 2 home game cancelled Sept. 9 against Millennium and rescheduled for the next morning because of lightning. Two years later against El Mirage Dysart, the Vipers had to wait out a delay for lightning before finishing their Week 2 game. The other two years Wahlstrom was coach, Week 2 games were on the road. Wahlstrom is now questioning whether or not he should schedule a Week 2 home game next year.

If 100 percent of the time in the last five years we’ve had games at Verrado High School and there’s been lighting delays, I think we might want to pay attention to what the data is telling us,” Wahlstrom said.


Casey Pritchard can be reached by email at Follow on Twitter @CaseyonSports and Instagram @ViewSports.


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