Hamilton can match Mountain View on Saturday with its eighth big-school state championship, while Mountain Pointe is in search of its first championship.The edge in tradition certainly goes to the Huskies. But after an early-season loss to Mountain Pointe and with a less explosive offense than many of those past title teams, Hamilton enters the Division I championship game as the underdog.Just as it did a year ago.“People even at our own school are telling us we’re about to lose,” Hamilton linebacker Santana Sterling said during Wednesday’s media day event at Wolfley’s Neighborhood Grill in north Scottsdale. “We keep that in the back of our heads and use it as motivation. That’s all you can do. But it really doesn’t matter what other people think. It’s about how we come out to play.”The Huskies faced naysayers a year ago, and bounced back from a 17-14 season-opening loss to Mountain Pointe for a 31-16 victory in the title game.“Last year we were the underdog and this year we’re coming into the same situation,” running back Tyrell Smith said. “But we’re not fazed by that. We won last year and we’re trying to do the same thing again.
If each play on Hamilton’s game-winning drive Monday night looked similar, it’s because they were.On 10 of the pivotal drive’s 11 plays, quarterback Sam Sasso handed off to Tyrell Smith, who burst off the left side of the Huskies’ offensive line.The reason Hamilton went to the left is because that is where Casey Tucker was paving the way. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound tackle was equally responsible for each yard of the drive as Smith or Sasso.“We went over Casey Tucker, who is as good a lineman as I’ve had here,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said after his team punched its ticket to Saturday’s Division I state championship game with the 21-17 win over Chandler. “That was an easy decision, really.”Smith heaped similar praise Tucker’s way after the running back plunged into the end zone on a 4th-and-1 play with 30 seconds left in the semifinal matchup.“It’s a complement to us as a line,” Tucker said. “We wanted to wear them down and drive it down their throats. We ran the same play the whole drive, over and over again. It was working for us.”
Hamilton coach Steve Belles took the playoff mantra "win or go home" and applied it to one play Monday night.With the Huskies trailing rival Chandler by three points and facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 30 seconds remaining, Belles didn't opt for the short field goal to take his chances in overtime. He put his team's season and title defense on the line.On the offensive line. And on running back Tyrell Smith, who barreled into the end zone for his third touchdown to lift the No. 3 Huskies to a 21-17 win over the No. 2 Wolves at Highland High School.The decision to forgo overtime and play for a spot in Saturday's Division I state championship game didn't surprise Belles' players. It didn't surprise Chandler coach Shaun Aguano.But more than a handful of shocked exasperations went up from the near-overflow crowd when Belles sent his offense back on the field out of a timeout after Smith was stuffed at the goal line on third down."Score," Smith said was his coach's message during the timeout.