This was a celebration 12 years in the making.
And when Dan Barnson brought his Arbor View High School football players together for a postgame talk Friday night, he made sure the 28-7 victory against Faith Lutheran for the Mountain Region championship was a title shared by all — old Aggies, current Aggies, and future Aggies.
“You won this for everyone who came before you,” Barnson, still dripping wet from a celebratory water bath, proclaimed.
This was Arbor View’s fifth straight regional championship game appearance. Each of the previous trips, though, the Aggies were on the wrong end of a lopsided defeat to nine-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman.
There’s no shame in losing to the Gaels — they haven’t been challenged since 2008. But with Gorman reclassified to the new Desert Region, Arbor View became the team to beat. That elusive first regional title was a reality.
“The whole change of the leagues created so much excitement this year. It really did,” Barnson said. “... We knew when that vote came in that, OK, this is our shot.”
Winning when you are the favorite — which Arbor View has been since the realignment was official — was no easy task. But, then again, Barnson isn’t used to having things easy.
When he launched the program in 2005 at the then-new school, Arbor View was placed in the state’s most competitive league, the old Northwest Division. With Palo Verde, Cimarron-Memorial and Centennial, it was affectionately called the “Black and Blue Division.”
Making the playoffs for the first time, long before multiple league titles in succession happened or Friday’s long-awaited regional championship, was an accomplishment Barnson still cherishes. It was arguably just as difficult.
He won his 100th career game this season, repeatedly giving credit to the players who paved the way for this year’s team. It seemed only fitting that many were in attendance Friday; many stayed after the game to greet the coach.
One by one he hugged them with pride, understandably becoming emotional with the program’s most shining achievement.
“We looked at old game film and saw how bad (previous team) wanted this. We fed off that,” said Bubba Graham, Arbor View’s standout running back, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the win.
Many around town have questioned whether Barnson and his double-wing offensive attack could take this step. Barnson has heard the skeptics — he just doesn’t care.
Arbor View trailed Desert Pines by two touchdowns in the second half of last week’s semifinals before going back into the double-wing attack. The power running game led to three unanswered touchdowns to salvage the season.
“We are going to do what we do,” said Barnson in a catchphrase he has repeatedly used over the years to describe his team.
But there’s more work to be done. And, it to won’t be easy.
The Aggies are headed to the state semifinals next weekend in cold-climate Reno, facing Northern Region champion Bishop Manogue. It will likely be coldest weather all of the players have competed in, and of course, there’s the bus travel up north.
Just don’t count out the Aggies. They are going to keep “doing what they do” until someone stops them. And, as Barnson says, they’ll keep playing to honor “everyone who came before you.”