Desert Mountain compared its recent journey to a boxer. Mountain View compared Desert Mountain to the New York Giants.
Analogies were everywhere this week as the Toros and Wolves meet on Thursday night for the third time in two seasons. Desert Mountain won both of the 2012 matchups, including the first round of the playoffs, and the Toros know the Wolves are basically playing a playoff game this time around.
Desert Mountain (2-4) has hit rough times lately, especially defensively. The Wolves feel injuries have played a pivotal part of their recent downturn, and though not fully healthy, a methodical matriculation of returning players (especially in the secondary) provides optimism moving forward.
"Like a boxer, we’ve been knocked out and I think we’re catching our breath and can come out swinging," Wolves coach Tony Tabor said. "Hopefully we’ve regrouped and catch our breath and start playing some football. If we can weather this and get going and get some people back we can put some things together again."
Right about here is where Toros' coach Chad DeGrenier referenced Desert Mountain's recent struggles being akin to the 0-5 Giants, a team he felt is far superior than its record indicates. The Wolves are No. 21 in this week's Division playoff seeding, and while it's only Week 7, Desert Mountain is on the outside looking in with Skyline, Desert Ridge and Mesa left on the schedule. So there are possibly significant playoff repercussions at stake.
Sooner or later, DeGrenier said, they're coming.
"They’re going to snap out of it and you hope it’s not against you," he said. "In my opinion they’re as good as a 6-0 team. They’re good. Those kids are going to be ready."
Injuries may be a significant factor in the Wolves' wobbly times of late, but don't talk to Mountain View about injuries (or most schools, for that matter). The Toros have seen more than its share of starters go out with injuries, some of them season-ending.
Still, as DeGrenier noted in the team's 5-1 start to the season: "We’ve been putting band-aids on stuff and guys are stepping up."
A defense led by Connor Ipsen, Erick Eckstein and Michael Barker has carried its weight in pivotal moments. John Clark (65.7 completion percentage, 19 TD, 2 INT) has been excellent at making the proper reads and avoiding turnovers, and Clark Brown and Robbie Millward have been consistent weapons for Clark.
The offensive line, one of the few parts of the Toros to remain (mostly) intact, has been a difference. The Toros ran for 160 yards last week against Skyline, and while it hasn't been statistically eye-popping, it's been effective and something the Toros have said they'd like to steadily increase its presence the rest of the way.
"We'll figure out a way. It's given a lot of other guys opportunities," DeGrenier said of the injuries. "We’ll put it on the o-line to keep us going. They’re the glue that’s keeping us going."
Mountain View's defense might have to assume the role of MVP for the Toros to win. Stopping Kyle Allen, a healthy Mark Andrews (though still playing with a minor tear in the meniscus ligament inside his knee), and Deion Warren running the ball are going to be the first order of business to have any chance against Desert Mountain's successful passing attack.
Otherwise, this could turn into a last-team-with-the-ball-wins kind of night.
If I really thought it was scheme or changes like that than we’d fix them, and we’ve been short-handed so new guys are coming into play and other guys start doing more than one person’s job, and that’s where we’re getting in trouble," Tabor said. "People are coming after us and we weren’t sneaking up on people (this season), no matter what you say. Football is a funny business. It’s one or two plays that makes a two- or three- or four-game difference."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.