Arbor View’s football program went from winning a total of four games in its first three seasons to six last fall.
But the Aggies still haven’t beaten the “big four” in the Northwest League.
Their first chance this season comes at 7 tonight when the third-ranked Aggies (2-0, 1-0 Northwest) play at sixth-ranked Cimarron-Memorial (1-0, 1-0).
“This is the first of the big four,” Arbor View coach Dan Barnson said, referring Palo Verde, Cheyenne, Legacy and Cimarron, the four teams that beat the Aggies last season. “This is test No. 1.”
Arbor View was 4-0 when the Aggies played Cimarron a year ago. And the Spartans pulled out a 26-19 road win. That coupled with a 31-30 overtime loss to Legacy the following week helped derail Arbor View’s playoff hopes.
“We played Cimarron down to the last play, and then the next week we lost in overtime to Legacy,” Barnson said. “It was hard for our kids because we’ve never been there. We’ve still never been there. Until we can beat one of the big four, we’re still in that middle tier.
“And we’re trying to get to that next level.”
Beating one of those four teams is not just big for respect but key to making the playoffs.
“We’re looking at it that if we win this, we’re going to the playoffs,” senior quarterback Austin Anderson said. “So we have to win. We’re coming to win this. We’re going for an undefeated season, so this is just the next step.”
Senior running back DeMarlo Virgil said the game is important not only for the players but for the entire student body.
“This is big for the school. Everybody’s counting on us,” Virgil said. “This is something that Arbor View’s never really experienced.”
The Aggies certainly have experienced success early in the season. They’ve outscored opponents 93-13 in the two wins.
Arbor View has used its big-play capability in both games. Nine of the team’s 13 touchdowns have been on plays of 15 or more yards. Seven have been on plays of 30 or more.
“We have a lot of speed this year, so we’ve been breaking the plays,” Anderson said. “And our line is really pulling through with the strength.”
Barnson, in his third season, said the team’s strength has showed marked improvement since he took over. And he thinks strength often is the difference that the top programs have.
“When I took over, we had one kid power cleaning 225 (pounds),” Barnson said. “Now we’ve got 33. So we are definitely a lot stronger. These kids have put in the work.
“Talent wins, but strength goes a long way.”
To beat Cimarron, the Aggies will have to contain the Spartans’ running attack, led by senior Stephen Nixon, who rushed for 1,954 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
Nixon, James Poole and Zach Barbara combined for 339 rushing yards in Cimarron’s season opener.
Last year, Arbor View held Nixon to 69 yards, but Barbara gashed the Aggies for 165.
“We need to contain Nixon, and then Barbara is the one that killed us last year,” Anderson said. “We have to stay on our feet and make tackles.
“If we make tackles, we win.”
And a win would signal that key step to the next tier.
“Some people are predicting us to win, and some people are saying ‘no way until they prove it,’ ” Barnson said. “And they’re right until we prove it.”