Once or twice a year, it happens.
Hamilton meets a worthy opponent and pundits are quick to map out the team’s demise.
The Huskies have had their share of close games and scares, but through it all, the state’s most powerful program has posted a big-school-record 43 consecutive victories heading into the next test: A road showdown with No. 2 Desert Ridge tonight.
These two teams met in last season’s 5A Division I championship game, with Hamilton holding off the plucky Jaguars, 21-13.
That was an underdog story, as Desert Ridge surprised the field by advancing to the title game as a No. 10 seed.
This time around, there’s a strong feeling that these are the two best teams in Arizona — and it’s not completely clear who, exactly, is No. 1. Hamilton has the tradition, pedigree and a defense full of playmakers. But Desert Ridge returns the three-headed offensive monster of Parker Rasmussen, Jordan Becerra and Joey Counts.
The Huskies have outscored their first three opponents 116-14. Desert Ridge has dropped its opponents by a combined total of 134-13.
Hamilton has been in this position often. In the 2009 state semifinals, Chandler was a fashionable pick after the Wolves controlled the regular season faceoff between the teams before a late Huskies rally stole the win. Hamilton won that semifinal game by 28 points.
Las Vegas Bishop Gorman took a star-studded roster to Northern Arizona University’s Walkup Skydome to play Hamilton in last year’s season opener, but left with a 24-17 loss. Brophy had chances in the last few seasons but has been unable to knock off the Huskies.
Hamilton has heard the rumors of its imminent downfall before, and uses it as motivation.
“I fully expect to win,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “I know a lot of people are picking against us this week. That puts a chip on your shoulder a little bit.”
Belles also inferred that Hamilton may have underestimated Desert Ridge in last year’s state championship game. That Huskies team was so powerful that it didn’t seem like anyone could compete, although the Jaguars stayed close from start to finish, and had the ball with a chance to tie late in the fourth quarter.
“On film they weren’t as impressive as they were on the field,” Belles said. “They have our undivided attention now.”
Hamilton’s offense is a work in progress, so even if the Huskies win, it may be a low-scoring affair. Belles has no problem with that. He’s not looking for style points.
“We’re going to play our game and slowly beat you,” he said. “It’s not always as fast as people like, but sometimes it’s better to be patient against good teams.”