The loss bothered Judge Memorial coach James Cordova less than what he witnessed on the sideline. The Bulldogs were blaming each other, and he was angry.
In the locker room, Cordova erased the playoff dates from Judge’s schedule and wrote a big “0-2” next to Woods Cross, the team that just had trounced the Bulldogs on that Friday night in August. He told his players that admission to the team’s Sunday film session would require an index card, listing their goals.
Harsh? “Yeah,” co-captain Sean McMinimee said with a wry smile, “but it worked.”
Ultimately, Judge’s commitment resulted in last Saturday’s 36-22 victory over Manti for the title in the modified Class 3A.
In August, I contended the Utah High School Activities Association’s move to six classifications for football would devalue state championships. How meaningful could it be in 3A, just to have beaten 11 other schools?
“You’re still the champs,” Cordova said this week. “You can’t sully that in any way.”
Not when family ties and player bonds heighten the achievement, when the loyalty inspired by a Catholic school comes into play and when a former dynasty claims its first state title in 30 years.
Gil and James Cordova became Utah’s first father-son coaching duo to win football championships. Judge’s victory restored a football tradition that was becoming overshadowed by the phenomenal success of Juan Diego, the Salt Lake Valley’s newer Catholic high school.
The 10th football title for the school on 11th East brought a 92-year history to life in modern ways, with alumni and other followers flooding Judge’s social media accounts.
“It’s galvanizing, as a lot of activities are at the school,” said Ric Trentman, a Judge board member who played for the 1983 championship team.
Sister Catherine Kamphaus, superintendent of Utah Catholic Schools, marvels “how people can be so attached to this school after so many years.”
Line coach Luther Elliss shared Judge’s triumph with his son, Kaden, the team’s quarterback. The former NFL star summarized the season as one of his best football memories. Cordova said Judge “is definitely a community ... something that defies a normal high school experience.”
The victory came 18 months after the death of McMinimee’s father, Jim, who had coached many of the players in youth football and as Judge freshmen. Sean always will remember walking into St. Ambrose Catholic Church for the funeral and being welcomed by teammates wearing their Judge ties, demonstrating a bond that would lead Cordova to describe the 2013 Bulldogs this way: “They bicker like brothers, but they love each other like brothers.”
Cordova grew up believing championship games were Judge’s birthright. He was born in 1969, a couple of weeks before his father coached the Bulldogs in the first of five consecutive title games — with three victories.
As an eighth-grader in ’83, Cordova stood on the sideline as his brother, Tony, played quarterback and defensive back for a Judge team coached by Frank L’Etoile in an 26-21 upset of unbeaten Jordan.
Before last weekend’s game in Ogden, Cordova brought out the yellow shoe box filled with those index cards, most of them undoubtedly listing a state title opportunity among the players’ goals.
“This is what you guys wanted,” he said.
And then the Bulldogs fell behind 14-7.
“I might have kicked the box,” Cordova said, recalling his halftime speech.
Again, it worked.
“We think we’re the best second-half team in the state,” McMinimee said, and the Bulldogs proved it as Henry Garcia ran for two touchdowns and Mark Barnett’s interception led to the clinching score.
The players wore their jerseys to school and paraded from the locker room to the main office Monday morning. A congratulatory bouquet arrived that afternoon from Juan Diego, a nice gesture from a school lamenting its Class 3AA semifinal defeat last week, via Pine View’s miraculous comeback.
And as the school day ended, Sean McMinimee gathered some teammates to fulfill a request from his mother, Sally. She wanted a photo of the boys with the state championship trophy.
Meaningful? I’d say so.
Judge Memorial’s football state championships
Year • Coach
1948 • Bill Moran
1949 • Tom Mares
1959 • Frank Klekas
1963 • Frank Klekas
1970 • Gil Cordova
1972 • Gil Cordova
1973 • Gil Cordova
1981 • Frank L’Etoile
1983 • Frank L’Etoile
2013 • James Cordova
Championships by school • West 21, East 16, Skyline 14, Millard 13, Jordan 12, Judge Memorial 10.