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The chill of winter means basketball is already underway with a plethora of early-season games and tournaments, and yet the question remains:
TUCSON — In the (shortened) week leading up to the Division III state finals, Queen Creek's players and coaches spoke at length about needing to avoid getting in a shootout with Saguaro if the Bulldogs wanted to repeat as champions.
No. 3 Chaparral vs. No. 2 Mesquite (at Gilbert H.S.): The storybook season for Mesquite continues, thanks to a wild gut-check victory last week against a Campo Verde team which deserves plenty of credit for coming back and forcing overtime after a terrible first half. Still, Mesquite made a couple plays and found a way to win, the kind of toughness and resiliency which has defined the Wildcats this season under coach Jim Jones. Chaparral, however, is a different animal. The Firebirds’ skill position players could be the best Mesquite’s stingy defense has seen this season, and the Chaparral defense – in particular the front seven – are fast, physical and playing as well as they have all season (as Marcos de Niza can attest to). Once again, a potentially wet, sloppy field plays into Mesquite’s hands, but outside that, it’s going to be tough sledding for Mesquite’s offense to consistently move the ball on Chaparral (even though the offensive line is a Mesquite strength). The Wildcats want to plod and slow this game down to a crawl as much as possible, there’s no chance they win a shootout. Chaparral, however, is the most capable team Mesquite has played, of not allowing that to happen.
Prediction: Chaparral 24, Mesquite 17
Chandler could do no wrong in the first half Friday night.
These matchups are inevitable. Whether sooner or later, a second helping is almost always required for a football team to play on.
Survive and advance is a popular mantra adopted this time of year — and for good reason.
Of the top four seeded teams in the Division I playoff bracket, it looked like No. 4 Desert Ridge might have the toughest first-round assignment in facing No. 13 Desert Mountain.
As Basha amassed nearly unfathomable yardage totals Friday night, the one thing looming over the Bears, threatening to cast for naught nearly 700 yards of offense, was a missed extra point midway through the second quarter.
Well, that was interesting.
10. Sahuaro 8-2...
9. Mountain View (Marana) 7-3...
8. Sunnyslope 10-0...
7. Marcos de Niza 6-4...
6. Campo Verde 8-2...
Campo Verde’s 30-0 loss to Mesquite sends the Coyotes down from No. 4 to No. 6 (it was a tossup whether to drop the Coyotes to No. 6 or No. 7). It might have been further but Marcos stays at No. 7 after the Padres lost a shootout with Div. III-powerhouse Saguaro on Thursday night, and the Padres could have moved down a spot or two, but we’d still take Marcos to beat Phoenix Sunnsylope if the schools played each other (Sunnyslope moved up a spot due to others’ losses despite only beating St. Mary’s 27-24 on Friday night). Tucson Sahuaro lost and fell to No. 10 after allowing 22 fourth-quarter points to Vail Cienega.
An upcoming golf tournament hosted at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa will raise funds to support a local children’s home that has helped more than 1,500 kids in its almost 60 years of existence.
Chandler at Highland: Highland coach Pete Wahlheim was pretty emotional after beating Basha two weeks ago on a last-second field goal. Highland gave Hamilton everything it could handle last week in a close loss, and if his Hawks can knock off Chandler this week, Gilbert might make Nov. 1 as Pete Wahlheim Day. OK, maybe not, but the Wolves aren’t about to dismiss Highland based on what Highland has done against the other Chandler schools this season, let alone a 5-1 record the past six weeks. However, the Wolves are playing about as well as anyone in the state the past four weeks, and the offense has so many dangerous parts, even a defense as good as Highland is going to have trouble keeping up. The Hawks have shown they’re capable of putting up some points, even if the numbers are never glamorous. They’re unquestionably going to have to score touchdowns, but the Hawks also can’t get in any kind of a shootout. It’s a thorny juxtaposition, as Chandler looks to enter the postseason as a No. 2 seed on a roll.
Prediction: Chandler 35, Highland 24
An offensive shootout for three quarters turned into a defensive battle in the fourth. In the end, Notre Dame Prep made just enough plays to eke out a 35-34 victory over Paradise Valley at Scottsdale Community College on Friday night.
Friday night’s showdown between Horizon and Pinnacle lived up to the shootout it was billed to be. But, surprisingly, it was the Huskies’ high-octane offense that couldn't keep pace.
We all know about the Chaparral-Desert Mountain and Chaparral-Saguaro rivalry matchups in Scottsdale, but another has wedged itself into the mix, at least for this year (and hopefully beyond).
It was a classic high school football game Friday night between two teams looking to make it into the Division l playoffs. When the dust cleared Desert Mountain won a 50-49 thriller over Skyline in a game loaded with playoff implications.
The Pioneers won their section by beating Horizon two weeks ago in a shootout, followed by Anthem Boulder Creek on Friday night to secure a first-round home playoff game. It'll be a rematch against Mountain View, in which Pinnacle held on in a nail-biter, 28-25, in September. Pinnacle hasn't suffered a massive amount of injuries, Mountain View has, and if the Toros don't get a lot of players back this week, the Pioneers could be looking at another rematch in the quarterfinals: Hamilton.
It’s time to find out much more about Higley’s position as the playoffs approach, with this matchup followed by Williams Field next week to end the regular season. The Knights have a legitimate shot in a shootout with RB Ricky Marshall and sophomore QB Tyler Bloom, and this one could be along those lines. The problem is trying to stop Saguaro, something Williams Field and Queen Creek couldn’t do early on, did for stretches in their respective games, but couldn’t in the end. That’s a problem given Higley’s struggles defensively in periods this season, and because QC and Williams Field have pushed around Higley when those schools have played one another. This is easily a better Higley team than any in the past few years, and the Knights now know where they stand with eight games counting after losing their two-game appeal of an ineligible player from early in the season. But neither Williams Field nor QC’s defense could stop Luke Rubenzer, Christian Kirk and J.T. Nettleton.
Prediction: Saguaro 42, Higley 28
-- Mark Heller
Mesquite is rolling in good times lately. Poston Butte flat-out can’t buy a break. The Wildcats (6-1) just won a shootout over Glendale Cactus for their fifth consecutive win, with an 11-point loss to Williams Field in Week 2 the only blemish. The Wildcats’ defense has been a brick wall for most of the season, with Paul Perry running the ball to help Payton Haslam direct the offense. That defense has to wrangle Brandon Hatfield and Poston Butte’s ground attack, in which he’s put up 1,055 yards and 15 TD, plus 314 yards receiving and 4 TD. He’s not a one-man show, but the Broncos (3-4) are in trouble if Hatfield isn’t able to get going or pop a “home run” carry. Trouble is, that hasn’t happened against Mesquite this season. Don’t let Poston Butte’s record fool you, the Broncos are better than the current three-game losing skid they’re on: Lost by one point to both Notre Dame and Marana Mountain View (which lost to Mesquite on a strange, second-chance field goal at the buzzer), and lost by three points to Marcos de Niza last week (plus a nine-point loss to Queen Creek early in the season). These two teams with their philosophies and offensive styles mirror one another, and that makes for a true tossup.
Prediction: Mesquite 21, Poston Butte 17
-- Mark Heller
These teams faced off in a memorable shootout in 2012, as Basha jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead but watched as Chandler scored 41 second-half points to secure a 10-point win. The Wolves will be favored in this one, especially coming off a victory over Hamilton a few weeks back. Chandler’s offense may be even more explosive than last year behind QB Bryce Perkins, RB Chase Lucas, WR Mitch McCulley, WR Dionte Sykes and WR Elijah Sykes, while Basha should be able to put up points as well led by quarterback Zach Werlinger and wide receiver Doc O’Connor. It should be another entertaining showdown, but Chandler’s vast array of weapons on offense may be too much for the Bears to slow down.
Prediction: Chandler 45, Basha 38
-- Kyle Odegard
This is pretty much the determinant of the Division I, Section V winner, but for Horizon, it’s also a big boost in competition, perhaps the best since a Week 1 matchup against Marcos de Niza (Horizon beat up Desert Mountain in late September, but the Wolves were missing a half-dozen starters that night from injuries, so it’s an impressive win for sure but didn’t offer a thorough assessment of Horizon). Pinnacle’s defense will be the best Horizon has seen this year, but will that matter? The Huskies have exploded offensively all season behind Player of the Year candidates Luke Quinn and Dalton Snead. Neither side is particularly big up front (offensive or defensive lines), so that could become a factor one way or another. Pinnacle will try and run the ball with Josh Hoekstra to do its best to keep Horizon’s offense off the field, and Horizon wants to “motor” with no huddles, quick-developing plays and many of them to keep Pinnacle’s defense on the field and force the Pioneers into being “perfect” score for score. Shootout anyone?
Prediction: Horizon 41, Pinnacle 34
-- Mark Heller
Is Desert Mountain in must-win territory in only Week 7? Hard to know for sure in early October, but it’s certainly a plausible argument to be made. The Wolves (2-4) have rough matchups this week and in two weeks against Desert Ridge, plus Mesa and Skyline. One step at a time, and this is a biggie. The Wolves have had their share of injuries, but they also allowed 35 unanswered points to Chaparral, 63 points to Horizon and 49 points to Red Mountain in three consecutive losses. Led by John Clark, Clark Brown and Robby Millward, Mountain View offers no reprieve for the Wolves’ struggling defense. Desert Mountain is hoping to get Daniel Fedorka back from injury this week which helps defensively, and the Wolves beat Mountain View twice last season (Week 1 and in the first round of the playoffs), but this is a better Toros team against what hasn’t shown to be a better Wolves’ team to this point. Kyle Allen and Mark Andrews alone will mean Desert Mountain gets its points, and if Deion Warren can get the running game rejuvenated, the Wolves are really dangerous. Get ready for a shootout, but recent history doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in Desert Mountain’s defense or ability to avoid turnovers...
Prediction: Mountain View 31, Desert Mountain 27
-- Mark Heller
This could be a shootout, which could be Marcos’ best chance against Salpointe Catholic’s explosive offensive capabilities. The Padres put up 78 points this season on Buena and 56 on Chaparral. Salpointe (4-0) is a team more than one East Valley coach said could be the best team in the state regardless of division, and is off to a hot start behind dual-threat QB Andrew Cota, WR Cameron Denson and WR Kaelin Deboskie. The Lancers cruised through their first four games of the season, including a 48-7 win against Liberty (Nev.), the same team Hamilton beat 14-10 last week. This will easily be Salpointe’s toughest test of the year for sure, and Marcos showed defensive improvements last week in beating Laveen Cesar Chavez. Eckley’s health and Marcos’ ability to force a couple turnovers and otherwise make Salpointe dink-and-dunk its way down the field are the keys, but a banged up Eckley plus Salpointe’s explosiveness on offense against a solid-but-not-invincible Marcos defense is going to make it difficult for the Padres to get in/out of Tucson (1-4 in the past five trips to the area) with a win...
Prediction: Salpointe Catholic 34, Marcos de Niza 24
Phoenix North Canyon and Paradise Valley are separated by less than four miles, yet the two neighboring schools haven’t played one another since 2006.
10. Paradise Valley 2-0
9. Sahuaro 1-1
8. Apollo 1-1
7. Campo Verde 3-0
6. Ironwood Ridge 1-1
Paradise Valley enters the rankings after a shootout win over North Canyon. Sahuaro drops a spot after a loss to Sabino, while Apollo gets back in with an impressive victory over Ironwood Ridge. Campo Verde continued its strong start by defeating Thunderbird and has moved up to No. 7. Ironwood Ridge is down three spots to No. 6.