Denair High School football coach Anthony Armas made a promise to himself before he took the job at his alma mater: Football wouldn’t consume his life.
He would always make time for family and their adventures, even when they coincide with the biggest win of his young career.
The Coyotes spoiled Delhi’s bid for a perfect season Friday evening, riding two Justin Steeley touchdown runs to a stunning 14-0 victory.
The win spices up the final few weeks in the Southern League, where front-running Orestimba (7-1, 5-0 WAC) suddenly has a clear path to second consecutive championship.
Denair (5-3, 3-2) needs one more win to become eligible for the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason, despite a dangerous lack of depth. The Coyotes began the season with 16 players and have watched their roster dip to as few as 13 at times.
Yet, Denair has managed to win five of its eight games, overcoming injuries and grade checks.
The Coyotes, ranked in The Bee’s small-school top-10 poll for the first time all season, finish at Mariposa (3-5, 2-3) on Friday and against Waterford (3-5, 1-4) on Nov. 4. They’ll be favored in both games.
Delhi (7-1, 4-1) still has a puncher’s chance at the school’s first league title. The Hawks, ill-prepared and turnover-prone in their first loss, will have to upset Orestimba on Friday to have any shot. Delhi committed seven turnovers and allowed Steeley, a powerful, straight-ahead runner, to rip off scoring runs of 17 and 74 yards.
The shutout was Denair’s third in four games and continued a season-long storyline. Denair made national headlines with back-to-back shutouts of Le Grand (0-8, 0-5) and Ripon Christian (2-6, 1-4) on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, games in which Armas had 13 and 14 players.
On Friday, with 16 in uniform and starting quarterback Kyle Prock sidelined with a knee injury, Denair took out a title contender.
“I think this was a huge win for our program because the past few years the program has struggled,” Armas said after Friday’s game. “It was important that we get this win to help our playoff chances and because I think it proved to our kids that we can beat a top-tier team in our league.”
Armas didn’t have long to celebrate. The second-year coach boarded a plane for Southern California around 3:30 a.m.
Once he landed, Armas joined his brother, Darren Armas, sister-in-law Tammy Armas, mother Barbara MacKay, and nieces Nicole and Natalie Armas for two days at the Disneyland theme parks.
He had a promise to keep.
“When I first thought about applying for this job, I told myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those coaches that allows the job to consume me,” he said. “I was going to continue to spend time with friends and family during the season, even if it meant I had to squeeze in trips like this into a tight time frame.”
Armas said the thrill of victory helped him keep pace with his nieces as they darted around “The Happiest Place on Earth” for two days. Armas’ favorite attraction was the Haunted Mansion, hosted by Jack Skellington.
“It definitely made things a lot sweeter,” he said of the win.