The final curtain call at Tom Flores Stadium for the poster boys of Sanger High football, Andrew Azua and Miguel Garcia, will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
An expected crowd in of 6,000-plus will see them in their dashing red uniforms, Nos. 22 and 23, for the Apaches’ CIF Regional North Division 2-A championship game against Serra-San Mateo.
About 2 1/2 hours later, Azua and Garcia will walk out of the stadium for the last time as players, those red uniforms surely soiled in green and brown.
No way they exit clean, not these hard-nosed, tough dudes – long the signature of Sanger football under 27-year coach Chuck Shidan.
He’s won 203 games with Azuas and Garcias, and they’re not to be confused with five-star, major-college recruits. That’s not what Apaches football is all about – never has been.
Running back Azua and linebacker Garcia, while among the most accomplished at their positions in the 117-year history of the program, will play beyond high school but not at Alabama or USC.
A 5-foot-9, 185-pounder doesn’t tote the mail for the Crimson Tide, unless he runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds.
A 6-foot, 216-pounder doesn’t police the heart of the Trojans’ defense.
Azua and Garcia are merely exceptional high school players in an exceptional program adored by their community like few others.
And Azua and Garcia applaud those who applaud them.
It’s just been a blessing being here and playing for a town that comes together to support us. You can’t really get this anywhere else – that’s the special thing about it.
Sanger running back Andrew Azua
“It’s just been a blessing being here and playing for a town that comes together to support us,” Azua says. “You can’t really get this anywhere else – that’s the special thing about it. Once you get into the stadium, you feel like everyone’s looking down at you; everyone’s basically ready for you to put it on for your city, and that’s what we do.
“We all came to the stadium to watch games as kids. As a Pop Warner player, the only thing you wanted was to be a Sanger football player on the varsity, to play under those lights for your town. It’s what we all dreamed of as kids, and it was a dream that came true.”
Garcia adds: “It’s crazy how the whole town comes together for that Friday night just to cheer for us. You won’t get this anywhere else.”
It’s certain that the pair will lace them up for the final time at Flores Stadium.
The question: Will they play again for an already 13-0 Sanger?
Win and the Apaches will play Los Angeles (11-3) or Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth (13-0) at noon Dec. 17 for the state 2-A title at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.
Lose and they’re finished.
One way or another, it’s been an extraordinary run, arm-in-arm, for Azua and Garcia since seventh grade at Sanger’s Washington Academic Middle School.
They went 18-0 in two years there.
They were brought up to the varsity early in their freshman seasons – virtually unprecedented in Shidan’s career: “We knew they could handle it.”
They have started since their sophomore years for teams that are a combined 31-6.
That means 49-6 as starters in five seasons.
“Being brought up as freshmen made us closer,” Azua says. “That’s where the friendship with my brother (Garcia) started.”
“Being the only freshmen on the team, we had each other’s back,” Garcia says. “And we still do to this day.”
Azua’s story – Azua rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns last week in a 20-10 win over two-year defending champion Ridgeview for the Central Section D-II title at Flores Stadium, where Sanger is 9-0 this season.
In Apaches career annals, according to school historian Ron Blackwood, Azua ranks eighth in rushing yards (2,402), fourth in touchdowns (35) and third in PATs (67).
35 Andrew Azua’s career touchdowns, fourth in Apaches history
“It’s going to take a lot to take him down,” Shidan says. “An arm tackle won’t do it, and that showed (against Ridgeview). He was barreling through and on a mission against a really, really good defense.
“Andrew says he’s going to play for the New England Patriots next year – that’s just his mentality. He’s something else, very strong willed.”
Azua is the go-to guy in Sanger’s triple-option offense, having rushed for 1,171 yards (7.2 per carry) and 20 TDs this season.
“I’ve never been a guy to go down by a first arm tackle,” he says. “I always look at the NFL and college players and the yards they make after contact. It makes you better than you could be.”
Garcia’s story – Garcia holds the school record with 359 career tackles, according to Blackwood. That includes a school-record 19 in a game, which he did twice as a junior.
359 Miguel Garcia’s career tackles, No. 1 in Sanger history
While he’s undersized by college standards at the position, he’s actually larger than normal for a Sanger linebacker. And that was evident in middle school.
“We could tell already in eighth grade because he had a big, big structure,” Shidan says. “He’s a strong, hard hitter, an instinctive, highly intelligent player. He turned out to be everything we thought, probably even more.”
Is Garcia, certain to repeat Defensive Player of the Year in the County/Metro Athletic Conference, Shidan’s best linebacker all-time?
“I’m always careful to compare because we’ve had great safeties and linebackers; that’s what we’ve been kind of known for,” says the coach, who has hinted of retirement following the season. “But he certainly ranks up there with the best we’ve had. He’s good, real good, and he’s proven it over and over again.”
The end is near, and Garcia is in deep thought: “All the memories, it’s just crazy how football can do that to a lot of people.”
Surely, it has had that impact on Nos. 22 and 23. And so fitting there’s not another jersey number separating them.
“It’s all a memory after this,” Azua says. “And we’ll never let it go.”
Matchups for Central San Joaquin Valley teams in CIF State regional championship games.
NORTH DIVISION 2-A
Serra-San Mateo (9-4) at Sanger (13-0), 7:30 p.m. Saturday
SOUTH DIVISION 4-AA
Bakersfield Christian (12-1) at Selma (13-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
NORTH DIVISION 6-AA
Mendota (13-0) vs. Amador-Sutter Creek (13-1) at Calaveras High, 7:30 p.m. Friday
SOUTH DIVISION 6-A
Horizon Christian-San Diego (7-6) at Strathmore (13-0), 7:30 p.m. Saturday