Batten down the hatches. Send the dog outside. Find a babysitter. Order the pizza early. Power down the phones.
Next weekend’s football should be off the hook.
We experienced a smattering of nail-biters (Desert Vista-Basha, Brophy-Chandler) some expected blowouts (Desert Ridge, Red Mountain, Marcos de Niza, Chaparral, Queen Creek) and a few games in between (Desert Mountain-Mountain View, Hamilton-Highland, Williams Field-Campo Verde, even Tempe Prep-Round Valley).
Tucson Sabino falling to Nogales in Division III was unquestionably the biggest upset of the first-round playoff games, but that was it for shock value (Pinnacle falling to Westview wasn’t a shock, though how it happened was a mild surprise).
Now, however, comes a surreal slab of sweetness.
Let’s start in Division I.
Pick you pleasure: No. 1 Mountain Pointe has allowed eight points in the past four games combined, but hasn’t seen an offense like No. 9 Desert Mountain (especially when the Wolves can run the ball) since Brophy in late September. Two years, the Wolves were 0-10 and a win would be their second semifinal appearance in four years. Desert Mountain’s Mark Andrews vs. Mountain Pointe’s Jalen Brown? Yes, please.
No. 4 Brophy just won another shootout against Chandler, but the Broncos are a bit hobbled physically and defensively, and Red Mountain can score. They did it in Week 3, a 33-31 Lions’ win over the Broncos.
Hamilton and Desert Vista again? Why not. The Huskies have said since spring ball that the only real compensation for what D.V. did to the Huskies in the 2011 state championship game is to beat the Thunder in the playoffs. Hamilton is healthy and rolling lately. Desert Vista has come up big against top competition the past couple weeks, a down-to-the-wire toll that’s hobbled the Thunder physically but reinforced their mental toughness.
No. 2 Desert Ridge gets No. 10 Avondale Westview, a game of who can run the ball better than the other. This one could be 40-34 and still only take two hours. The Jaguars overcame themselves in a big way (penalties) to beat Valley Vista, but that won’t happen against Westview, which steamrolled Pinnacle with its running game.
Want more? How about Division II? Marcos de Niza and Chaparral went down to (literally) the final play of the game in Week 2. The Padres have rolled through their schedule (including the first-round playoff win), while the Firebirds have won seven consecutive games on the strength of maturity and defense. Jake Roh. Priest Willis. Josh Eckley (MDN) and Brad Schencker (Chaparral) at quarterback for their respective teams. Yeah, that’ll be a game-and-a-half.
More? How about No. 9 Saguaro and No. 1 Goodyear Desert Edge in Division III? The Sabercats high-flying offense throttled a solid Glendale Cactus team for the fourth time in two years. Desert Edge handled Phoenix Thunderbird, Peoria Liberty and Buckeye this year with Sawyer Lung at quarterback hitting Elijah Marks (1,061 yards receiving, 15 touchdowns) and Kyle Woolard rushing for 1,300 yards.
More? OK. Liberty and Williams Field in Division III, along with Thunderbird and Queen Creek. Queen Creek will get a bigger challenge than even Williams Field gave the undefeated Bulldogs last week. Williams Field’s running game has been solid, and its passing game improved, but unlike most games this season, turnovers would be the Black Hawks’ demise in this one should they surface again.
The East Valley will find out how solid Liberty and Desert Edge really are.
Still more? No. 3 Seton Catholic will get a tough test against No. 6 Cottonwood Mingus next Saturday in Div. IV. Seton has returned to health (to an extent) but that high-powered offense will meet a Mingus defense that will offer more resistance than what Seton has seen in the past month, maybe all season. Mingus beat Coolidge and gave No. 1 Lakeside Blue Ridge its toughest game of the season in the opener (a 16-14 Blue Ridge win).
There’s more. How about No. 5 Yuma Catholic and No. 4 Scottsdale Christian tangling in Div. V next Saturday, a matchup of top-5 teams, maybe higher. Tempe Prep beat No. 1 Phoenix Northwest Christian two weeks ago, then got past a good Eagar Round Valley team in Friday’s playoff opener. The relentless path continues with No. 6 Thatcher next Saturday.
Far and wide, from Queen Creek to Peoria, next week could be the best condensed collection of interesting, close-call football games in a long, long time.
Teams formerly left in the dust: Remember when Hamilton was 0-2 and Chaparral was 1-3? It was two months ago. That’s not exactly an eternity, but it feels like one. The Huskies are (pretty) healthy, defensively sound and continue to get incrementally better on offense with a senior quarterback who learned the hard way early on (A.J. Thigpen). Chaparral is getting healthier, defensively sound for the past six weeks and continues to get better incrementally on offense with a senior quarterback who learned the hard way early on (Brad Schencker). How eerily similar.
Swansongs: It was the last home game for many East Valley senior studs, and they took full advantage in concluding their high school careers, whether in defeat or because the show must now hit the road. Jake Roh (Chaparral), Weston Birtcher (Mountain View), Austin Hicks, Jarek Hilgers and Kaleb Germinaro (Desert Vista), Sean Schweichler (Williams Field) and Ryan Bresnahan (Seton Catholic) all went nuts on Friday night in their home field finale. Win or lose, they left lasting imprints on the fields in which they’ve played the past few years.
Desert Mountain: It wasn’t easy at times against Mountain View, and the Wolves are going to get a even more resistence against Mountain Pointe’s defense next week. But when the Wolves run the ball effectively as they did against the Toros in a win on Friday night, this offense is tough to stop. WR Mark Andrews is a beast unto himself, but Kyle Allen (even when he had to change jerseys from No. 10 to No. 5 because it shredded) did an excellent job of both finding his secondary targets Alec Waltman and Cody Erickson and using his legs to convert first downs rather than force a pass. The Pride will still be favored next week, but the Desert Mountain offense of Friday night could make things real interesting.
Desert Ridge discipline: The easy win over Surprise Valley Vista couldn’t hide 185 yards in penalties or six personal foul flags. Jaguars coach Jeremy Hathcock didn’t really mince words about it afterward and neither did a couple players. They shouldn’t, because they already know what’ll happen if anything close to a repeat happens against Avondale Westview next week. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hathcock said. ”It’s very characteristic of how we’ve played, and that’s the problem.” Maybe this should be a ‘Thumbs Up’ for honesty.
Pinnacle: To the Pioneers’ credit, they got one back against Desert Mountain in Week 9 after a big fourth-quarter meltdown in 2011. What followed, however, was a defensive nightmare. Brophy put up 59 points and 570 yards of offense (according to MaxPreps.com) on Pinnacle last week, and Avondale Westview went into Pinnacle and put up 56 points and 675 yards of offense (481 yards rushing) on Friday night to knock the Pioneers out in the first round.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.