Sam Molina, left, an assistant coach for Vern Friedli at Amphi High School during a game against St. Mary's in Dec. 1997. Photo by Mary Chind / Tucson Citizen

Mary Chind / Tucson Citizen

A Tucson team hasn’t won a “big schools’’ state title since 1979, but on December 13, 1997 at Sun Devil Stadium, coach Vern Friedli’s Panthers had all but pulled off the upset of the century. The 13-0 Panthers led mighty Mesa Mountain View 24-21 with 3:29 remaining. Mountain View had won 27 straight games; it dwarfed Amphi in enrollment, 3,968 to 1,880, but Friedli always “played up’’ and typically played tough.

With 3:29 remaining, fourth-and-1 at the MMV 39, Friedli chose to run rather than punt. The fourth-down play failed by about five inches. MMV scored in the final moments to win, 28-24, although TV replays later showed that a referee erroneously ruled a game-changing fumble by Mountain View to have been after the whistle.

“My admiration for these kids is immeasurable,’’ said Friedli. A Tucson team has still not won the big-schools football championship since 1979. 

Sports columnist for the Arizona Daily Star.