Home Coyote Spotlight 2022 SEASON RECAP: SIX-TIME CHAMPION COYOTES FALL SHORT IN 10TH TITLE APPEARANCE

2022 SEASON RECAP: SIX-TIME CHAMPION COYOTES FALL SHORT IN 10TH TITLE APPEARANCE

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(PALM SPRINGS) — Spring, 2022. One by one, like soldiers withdrawing from the trenches, the SoCal Coyotes sauntered off the field at Inglewood’s historic Jackie Robinson Stadium. For the 10th time in their storied history, the SoCal Coyotes had fought their way to another championship appearance.

For the fourth time, the six-time champions had reached the pinnacle, but fallen short. Coyote players walked through a labyrinth of opposing players, coaches and fans as they made their way from the battlefield. Celebratory music and the joyous screams of victory from their opponent followed them through the corridor of defeat. Nobody talked.

Injuries limited team captain and all-time sack leader (106) Jake Sheffield to two games in 2022

One by one, players peeled off their game uniforms. Along with their helmets, they handed everything to a member of the Coyotes equipment staff, who filed them away into bins. Soon, the players stopped coming. The bins were wheeled away. The entire operation took minutes.

It was about the only thing that went as designed, without landmines or self-imposed destruction, for the Coyotes on that night, when they returned to Los Angeles for a rematch with the top-ranked Blackhawks. In a see-saw game that presented these young Coyotes more than a fair share of opportunities, SoCal instead blew a chance at evening their overall record against their biggest arch-rival.

‘Bounce Back, Do the Job, Get Over the Hump’

The frustration was real. Linebacker Phineas Yi fought back tears as he contemplated an uncertain and unknowable future. Quarterback Kadell Washington expressed regret and disbelief for a red-zone interception that killed the Coyotes’ chances of mounting a comeback – just when things finally appeared to be going their way. Right tackle Juan Romero acknowledged that everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the first half, but was steadfast in his belief that the Coyotes — not the football gods or the universe or bad luck or anything or anyone else — deserved the blame.

“When we don’t execute, I’m not going to sit here and say nothing is going our way,” Romero said. “That’s on us to get things to go our way. We just didn’t do that. We need to be better. Period.”

“I’m annoyed,” said left tackle Johanthan Zazueta, a 10-year veteran. “Playing for championships isn’t what we do here. Winning them is. We’ve got to get this monkey off our back. I’ve got a lot of faith in the Coyote organization – and I’ve got faith in all these new young faces in our locker room. They needed this experience. I’m confident these same guys are going to bounce back next year, do the job, and get us over the hump.”

Two Plays from a Title 

A day after the loss, Coyotes head coach J David Miller, GM Scott Alvarez and assistant head coach Lawrence Coffey went back to work. Sitting in their offices, Zoom apps open, watching film, reviewing statistics, they deconstructed the season like a Rubik’s cube – flipping through possibilities, and searching for answers to the lingering questions on what went right, what went wrong, and what the future holds.

The ‘Darkside Defense’ is packed with talented young players

“While our 2022 team wasn’t our most-talented team,” Coach Miller said, “neither was the 2018 team, when we won it all. That team found a way to win, and frankly, our 2022 team did too. First of all, Coach Coffey and Coach Alvarez did an amazing job building this roster – and I’m so proud of our players for how hard they worked to grow and improve over the course of a single season.”

SoCal benefited from a strong core of returning second-year players who ushered in a new decade of Coyote football in the Coachella Valley. Linebacker Zach Huff; running backs Markese Denmon and Kavan Buggs; offensive lineman Juan Romero and Java Oliver; defensive back Trayvon Watson; wide receivers Julian Hill, Stephen Ford, Jacob Rogers, Armando Deniz, and defensive linemen Rudy Ortega, and Josh Cooper.

“It was our young veterans that took us from a team that couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time in Week One – to being two plays away from a title,” Miller added. “We have so much talent to build upon.”

In their past three meetings with the San Diego Silverbacks, the Coyotes have outscored them 54-7

‘A Rebuilding Year’

Year in and year out, Coach Miller has the highest of expectations for his SoCal Coyotes. Every year it’s championship or bust in Palm Springs.

“Last season,” Miller said, “like it or not, it was kind of a rebuilding year. A week at a time, we were learning how to win.”

Just about any other program in the country would be envious of the ‘Yote’s ‘rebuilding year,’ which resulted in another winning record. Under Coach Miller, the Coyotes have never lost two consecutive games or missed the playoffs.

GM Scott Alvarez agreed with his head coach, citing the young players that had to ‘plug and play’ – and made significant contributions to the team throughout the 2022 campaign. Now headed into his third year as General Manger, Alvarez was even more excited to see those same players take another step forward in ’22.

“I’m excited about the young guys we have that are new to our program, new to our team,” Alvarez said. “And I’m excited about the young players that we had to develop who became guys who will actually be able to contribute.”

Coach Miller pointed to the roster as evidence. “If you look at the success of our rookies and second-year players, it tells a story,” he said. “We’ve turned over 90-percent of the roster in the last two years, with talent emerging from every direction.”

Stability, Coach Coffey, and Tyler Roberts

Stability in 2022 came in the form of Lawrence Coffey, the Coyotes assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator.

Assistant Head Coach and recruiting coordinator Lawrence Coffey (foreground) has been critical to the Coyotes success since 2020

“Coach Coffey is one of the finest coaches we’ve ever had on our staff,” Coach Miller said. “He just does an outstanding job. He’s the best we’ve ever had with recruiting and player relations. He’s extraordinarily well organized and a very good play caller on game day. The players love him. I rely on Coach Law’s advice, I depend on his leadership, and I trust him with every facet of our organization.”

Former College of the Desert star lineman Tyler Roberts joined the Coyotes as OL/DL coach, fresh off an apprenticeship with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “We were blessed to get Tyler Roberts fresh off his experience with the Steelers,” Coach Miller Said. “He’s real detail-oriented. He’s all about technique. He played the game. He understands you don’t have to be the strongest guy in the world –  but if you’re smart enough, with good technique, you can defeat the guy in front of you. There’s no substitute for passion and energy in coaching, and Tyler’s got a bunch of it.”

Their job was to mold a 2022 ‘Darkside Defense’ headlined by a group of standout rookie defensive players: Phineas Yi, Justin Sykes and Justin Taylor, Timmy Green, Ricky Brown, Vincente Flores, and Theseus Anderson. They complemented key defensive returners Tray Watson, Ryan O’Bryant, Zach Huff, Josh Cooper, Nick Long, and Paul Bartley. This gave the Coyotes a huge boost on defense.

An Auspicious Start 

Shane Stafford looks on as the Silver Stretch offense takes the field.

The Coyotes started 2022 with much uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball. For the first time in Coyote history, Coach Miller wasn’t available for most of training camp: Doctors insisted his back wouldn’t withstand another season, and he was forced to undergo his second major back fusion surgery in late January.

That eliminated Miller from his typical role as the de facto offensive coordinator and playcaller. To compensate for his loss, Coach Miller brought in ‘Sugar’ Shane Stafford, a former NFL and record-setting Arena Football League quarterback who played for the Tampa Bay Storm when Coach Miller was the five-time world champion Storm’s Senior Vice President.

Stafford had coached two different arena teams to title games – winning one – and was a successful college coach when Miller called his old quarterback to replace him.

“Shane does a great job really in every area,” Coach Miller said. “I don’t think he really has any weaknesses as a coach. He understands what every player on the field is doing on offense and defense. He has a great vision for how to utilize the skills of the players on his side of the ball. He attacks a team’s weaknesses, whether it be personnel weaknesses or schematic weaknesses. Just like he did as a player, Shane knows how to force the opponent into a situation that he’s able to take advantage of.

“I’ve learned a lot from Shane,” Coach Miller added. “I really have. He really excels in every area. I don’t think it’s any one thing — play-calling, fundamentals, strategy. It’s really all of them.”

Stafford was handed a smattering of talented rookies that included slotback Ryan Reyes, receiver Stephen Ford Jr., and offensive tackle Andrew Harris. They joined returning veterans Rashad ‘The Franchise’ Roberts, tackle Jonathan Zazueta,  JaVarrie Oliver, and receiver Robert Taylor.

Low Expectations, Entitlement and Leadership 

It took three overtimes for the 2021 Coyotes to go down swinging in the league semi-final. Now headed into 2022 without an official quarterback on the roster, outsiders didn’t have high hopes for the Coyotes. Few thought they would finish the year with a winning season – much less a championship game appearance.

Brian Khoury, who spent 2021 with the New England Patriots, personified drive, desire and discipline as a Coyote in 2022

The Coyotes faced a daunting schedule to open the 2022 spring season, playing their first two games on the road. The Coyotes started the year with Rashad Roberts, to the surprise of many looking in, but not a surprise to the Coyotes. Rashad ‘The Franchise’ Roberts is one of the only remaining players from the Coyotes 2012 inaugural season.”

“Entitlement is something that we have to combat every year,” said GM Alvarez. “The second Coach Miller returned, he was in the face of our returning players, challenging their leadership and daring for them to emerge.”

Coach Coffey shared those sentiments. “Every year, its imperative that we have internal leadership,” he said. “Typically the lack of that spark comes from younger players not stepping up. They don’t understand that they have to raise every aspect of their game. Mostly they think they inherited the hard work of the classes before them. Coach Miller says that ‘titles are won in the locker room as much as on the field.’ And that’s true.”

While the very young 2021 team had found some sort of identity, “there was still the sense that far too many other guys never bought in, had checked out by then, or never checked-in at all,” Alvarez said.

‘The Franchise’ Opens at Quarterback

After an injury took out a starting quarterback, Rashad ‘The Franchise’ Roberts had previously played the position for the Coyotes in the spring 2013 season.

Those who have followed the Coyotes for the past decade know ‘The Franchise’ is far more than just SoCal’s all-time leading receiver and leading scorer – he’s also a winner, with six rings to prove it.

Still, everyone was shocked when Coach Miller declared Roberts the starter for 2022. “It wasn’t a difficult decision,” Miller said. “At that moment, the quarterback room was full of could-bes and wanna-bes. The receiver room wasn’t far behind. The o-line was learning on the job. We needed a veteran to settle us down and not cost us early games while we found our identity.”

In a wild, wooly and windy opener in beautiful San Diego, The Franchise did just that – manage the game, and lean on the Darkside Defense. Defensive rookies Justin Sykes and Phineas Yi had breakout performances in this game. Sykes (DE) had 3 tackles, 2 assisted, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss. Phineas Yi (LB)  2 tackles, 4 assisted, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 fumble recovery.

‘He’s like a son to me,’ Coach Miller says of Rashad Roberts, whom he nicknamed ‘The Franchise’ in 2012

The real scoring line: The Coyotes were in the red zone 11 times without scoring a point, and the lack of special teams was glaring. With minutes to play and the Coyotes pinned to their one-yard line, Coach Miller called an intentional safety to flip the field and put the defense back on the field.

“That was a big-time call under pressure,” Coach Stafford said. “I’ve never worked for a coach whose mind was that far ahead. Coach knew our backs were against the wall, and a mistake would’ve cost us the game. I told the team afterward that Coach Miller’s ‘called safety’ won the game.”

In a baseball score, the Coyotes won 6-2. Moments after boarding the bus for the ride home, Coach Miller called his friend and player agent Mark Seabaugh.

“We need a punter, kicker and long-snapper,” rasped the exhausted Miller. “Stat.”

Trial by Fire

The Coyotes didn’t get any help from the league scheduling department in Week Two – which found them back in the old haunts of Jackie Robinson Stadium against the Blackhawks.

What could go wrong, did – Roberts went down with injury, and whatever hope the Coyotes had went with him. Backup Armando Deniz made his first appearance at quarterback, but his gutty performance was to no avail.

The lone bright spots were an unrelenting defense that played to the very last snap – and surprisingly, special teams. Thanks to Seabaugh, the Coyotes had signed and debuted kicker Daniel Parisi, punter/holder Zachary Kozlik, and long-snapper (and former New England Patriot) Brian Khoury.

Though they were still searching for answers on offense, it was clear they had struck gold on special teams.

Rally in the Valley

Ryan Pervine put his team – and the Tigers – on his back in  a bruising Week Three victory

The core of an NFL team’s special teams unit comes from the linebacker position.  Most teams will only play three linebackers in a game, and with the explosion of the NFL passing attacks, the strong-side linebacker is rarely used on passing downs.  Most teams use the fourth linebacker as the “nickel” linebacker in passing situations.

The Coyotes are no different – they carry more linebackers than any other position, and are willing to deploy them all over the field, even as offensive linemen, de facto tight ends, or S-backs.

The ingenuity and creativity of SoCal’s coaching staff was never more evident than Week Three, when it all came together. Meeting the Santa Clarita Valley Tigers helped the Coyotes find their fire – and started a home game stretch with a rally in the valley.

Veteran linebacker turned S-back Ryan Pervine dragged the Tigers with a lifetime rushing performance that ignited the Coyotes all over the field. “It was the biggest boost to team morale I’ve ever seen,” said Coach Coffey.

The Coyotes scored on all teams. Defensively, Vincente Flores took a 96-yard interception to the house for a huge touchdown. Theseus Anderson caught the first receiving touchdown of the season, quickly followed up by a receiving touchdown by Ryan Reyes. Ryan Pervine then muscled his way through, what looked like the entire Tiger defense, to score on a 20 yard rush.

Kicker Daniel Parisi nailed an easy 32-yard field goal for the special teams. The Darkside Defense also shined, with rookies Vincente Flores, Theseus Anderson, and Phineas Yi each having a season-high performances.

Anderson recorded 4 tackles and a tackle for loss, on top of his receiving touchdown on offense. Flores recorded 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and a 96 yard interception for a touchdown. Phineas Yi (LB) led the defense with 8 tackles, and 2 assisted.

During this game the Coyotes suffered a huge blow to the defense, losing Zach Huff to a season-ending injury. Huff was tracking down a Tigers player when his left knee exploded, shredding the linebacker’s ACL in the process.

Up to that point, Huff hadn’t missed a defensive snap in two seasons, looking every bit the every-down, difference-maker the Coyotes had been searching for at linebacker since 2019.

Despite the setback, Huff doesn’t consider 2022 a “lost” season. If anything, the injury helped him grow in ways that playing never could.

“I tore my ACL on a freak play coming down to make a hit I’ve made 1,000 times,” Huff said. “Since I was a kid, I’ve had 13 seasons of football under my belt and never thought an injury like this was even possible. I knew instantly it was serious by the sound and the pain. But thank God I had a great surgical team and an amazing support system of teammates, coaches, doctors and family.”

Coach Miller Hits the Century Mark

Coach Miller’s career wnning percentage (.848) tops Nick Saban (.803) and Bill Belichick (.671)

The win over Santa Clarita was the 100th victory at the Coyote helm for Coach Miller, who has an overall career mark of 154-27 (.848 winning percentage).

“Not everyone is as humble as Coach,” Alvarez said. “I’ve been with the Coyotes for six years, and before that, I’ve worked with ‘me-me-me’ coaches. Coach Miller is God first, team first, and honestly never even told us what was at stake for him in this game. In fact, it was surreal how we found out it was his 100th victory.

“After all the players left, after all the lights turned off, after all the doors were locked, and after everyone had gone home, Coach Miller sent a text to the coaching staff thanking us for his 100th victory.”

The Coyotes rode that fire to a 22- 2 drubbing of the San Diego Silverbacks. In his best outing as a Coyote, Armando Deniz had 150 yards passing with 2 touchdowns, including a 68-yard statement score by legend Rashad Roberts. Receiver Robert Taylor also shined, adding another touchdown in his young career.

Once again the defense was unruly and unmatched physically by the opposing team. Linebacker Phineas Yi led the defense with 5 tackles, 3 assisted, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 interception. Ryan Pervine also jumped in at linebacker for this game and recorded 3 tackles, 5 assisted, and 2 tackles for loss.

Juan Romero played both sides of the ball, dominated the Silverbacks, and made a statement of his own with a safety. Daniel Parisi knocked in a 27-yard field goal and lasered in a 47 yarder this game. At the halfway mark the Coyotes were 3-1, and in control of their future.

The young Coyotes swept tough road games at San Diego and Santa Clarita

Down the Home Stretch 

The Coyotes went 2-1 down the home stretch, including a big road win against the Tigers.

A battle for the number 1 seed in the playoffs between the Coyotes and Blackhawks took place at Desert Chapel in Palm Springs. Once again, Armando Deniz would take the start, and had touchdown passes to Rashad Roberts and Robert Taylor. The Coyotes also had a special teams touchdown with a 60-yard kickoff return.

Deniz went down to injury in the fourth quarter, which led to the debut of ageless veteran Kadell Washington. The newest member of the team, Coach Miller had added Washington to the roster to give the Coyotes emergency depth at an already depleted position.

The defense came up big with Justin Taylor (LB) and Justin Sykes (DE) having career performances. Taylor recorded 3 tackles, 6 assisted, and 1 fumble recovery. Sykes recorded 6 tackles, 4 assisted, and 1 tackle for loss.

‘It Takes One Play to Change the Game’

“It takes one play to change the game, and two plays can be the difference in a season,” Miller said.

The ‘Darkside Defense’ came up big on the road against Santa Clarita down the stretch

LDFL/DFI fans would get to see if the Coyotes were contenders or pretenders when they traveled to the Santa Clarita Valley Tigers in Week 6. For 60 minutes of football, the Coyotes proved they were a force to reckon with.

In his first start, Kadell Washington took command under center and led the Coyotes to their most dominant performance of the season – throwing for an even 300 yards and six touchdowns.

The star of the night was slotback Ryan Reyes – who exploded for four touchdowns. Reyes caught three touchdowns and returned a kickoff for another score. Rashad ‘The Franchise’ Roberts hauled in two deep touchdowns, while Theseus Anderson caught another.

Defensively, the Coyotes once again dominated, but this time with a mix of offensive players going both ways.

Rookie Ricky Brown (DB) recorded 6 tackles and 4 assisted. Markese Denmon Jr (RB) recorded 4 tackles. Theseus Anderson played both sides of the ball and recorded 3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception return for a touchdown. This game solidified the Coyotes as the number 2 seed for playoffs.

Since Coach Miller appointed Alvarez in 2020, The Coyotes have successfully turned over 90% of their roster

Tenth Championship Game Appearance 

Riding the wave of their best offensive performance of the year, the Coyotes shut out San Diego in the opening round of the playoffs – which punched their ticket to a franchise-record 10th championship game appearance.

Coach Miller confirmed he will return for the 2023 season

The battle for league supremacy lived up to its billing. Kadell Washington fired touchdowns to S-back Markese Denmon and Robert Taylor. Denmon recorded one of his best nights as a Coyote, with 66 rushing yards on 9 attempts, and 100 yards receiving with a touchdown.

The Darkside Defense repeatedly bailed the Coyotes out of poor field position with big plays from linebackers Justin Taylor and Phineas Yi.

But the Coyotes couldn’t overcome a two-score swing that came at their own hands. Special teams gave up a punt return for a touchdown, and an inside-the-10 red-zone interception snuffed out their hopes.

“Nobody in our locker room used ‘rebuilding’ or anything else as an excuse,” said Coach Coffey. “This whole organization has been so positive this year. It took us a while to play to the Coyote standard, but we finally got there.”

‘One Game Does Not Define Us’

Edge rusher Justin Sykes refused to hang his head after the Coyotes came up short.

“We have a locker room full of character,” Sykes said. “Guys that are happy to be here and want to be here. It will be motivating for us. Nobody likes to be beat. Everybody wants to play their best. Moving foward, we’re full of motivation, and hope.”

Coach Miller echoed Sykes’ sentiments.

“These young men grew so much – and overcame so much – that it’s tough we didn’t close the show,” he said. “One game does not define us, or the heart of this team. I have so much love and respect for our players and coaches. They are great competitors, great leaders in their communities, and 2022 was a huge step forward.”

 

ABOUT THE SOCAL COYOTES

The six-time champion SoCal Coyotes are the 2021 California Non-Profit of the Year, and the national standard of American developmental football. The Coyotes’ organization provides elite athletes a professional environment that refines and showcases their skills through trademarked processes similar to the NBA’s D-league and MLB’s minor-league systems.

Additionally, the Coyotes’ 501c3 and award-winning ‘Above The Line™’ leadership programs impact the social, mental and physical growth of more than 50,000 youth annually through remedial curriculum, training camps, clinics and symposia. NFL executives have named the SoCal Coyotes organization America’s #1 Developmental Football Program™ for its national, scalable brands, community outreach programs, 10-year operational track record, verifiable data, youth curriculum, sales, public-private sector alliances, and measured results.

ABOUT CSESA

On the heels of The SoCal Coyotes success, Coachella Sports and Entertainment Stadium Authority Corp. (CSESA) marks the advent of the Coachella Valley’s first and only centrally-based campus developer for sports, medicine, events, media, sports tourism and retail. CSESA’s unparalleled vision in sports tourism, medical, entertainment, restaurant, hotel and convention offerings will make it the region’s most active live content and event campus developer in Coachella Valley history.

The Shield at 1 Coyote Way will soon be the desert’s premiere destination

CSESA sports and entertainment partners are dedicated to all aspects of festival, exhibition, broadcast, merchandise and special events. CSESA believes the Coachella Valley’s greatest resource is its human potential, and invests heavily in community development and youth leadership initiatives.

CSESA is the master developer of The Shield at 1 Coyote Way, a 588-acre, multi-use campus that will be a 365-day-a-year destination. The Shield will include indoor and outdoor sports centers for soccer, concerts, football, lacrosse, field hockey; more than 100,000 square feet of retail, food and beverage, and other community space; more than 2,000 housing units; three hotels; 200,000 square feet of commercial office space; and over 100,000 square feet of family entertainment.

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