In order to reach the Arizona Division I state football championship, you have to make it through the regular season first.
Some schools have an easier path than others.
Defending state champions Mountain Pointe have a schedule that shapes out well for the Pride to start the season strong. After a season opener in the Sollenberger Classic, against Sparks (Nev.) Reed, a team that went 12-2 last year, Mountain Pointe has winnable games against North, Cesar Chavez and Maryvale. After those games comes the tough two-week stretch; a home date with Chandler on Sept. 19 preceding a road contest against Hamilton will test the Pride.
“I know on offense they have six Division I (college) prospects and on defense they have probably have five. They’re loaded,” Norris Vaughan said of Chandler. “It’ll be a tough road, but it was tough last year.”
Following its game with the Huskies, Mountain Pointe has the ’Tukee Bowl game against Desert Vista at home before heading to a Brophy team that should be better than last year’s 5-7 squad.
Rounding out the Pride’s schedule is a road game with Corona del Sol and a homer against Dobson.
Last year’s state runners-up, Hamilton have three straight road games against Sandra Day O’Connor, Brophy and Pinnacle to open its schedule. Brophy should be solid and Pinnacle went 9-3 last year, making it to the state quarterfinals before being bounced by the Huskies.
After the road stretch, Hamilton will have a three-game home stand, but they won’t be easy games. Henderson (Nev.) Liberty, a 10-4 team last year, is first followed by a state title game rematch with the Pride and a rivalry game against Chandler.
“The middle part is pretty brutal,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “We feel pretty good about having those games at home, and we know it’s going to be quite the challenge for us.”
After that stretch, things ease up a bit for the rest of the season. Hamilton rounds out the schedule at Basha, a 6-6 team a year ago, a home game against Gilbert (2-8 in 2013), at Highland and a home finale against Perry.
The Huskies’ archrival, Chandler, has likely the most difficult schedule of all of the Division I contenders.
All of the Wolves’ toughest games are on the road, having to travel to Centennial, Hamilton, Mountain Pointe, Basha and a Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Valor Christian team that has won five straight state titles in three different divisions.
The good news for Chandler is that its home games against Buena, Cesar Chavez, Gilbert and Highland aren’t as daunting.
After back-to-back 11-2 seasons, Desert Ridge will look to take the next step and break past the state semifinals and the schedule works out well for the Jaguars to do just that.
A travel game against Chula Vista (Calif.) East Lake, which is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons, is the toughest game of the first half of their season. The real test for the Jaguars will come at the end of the year at home against Red Mountain and at Desert Mountain.
“Red Mountain’s always a bloodbath,” coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “There’s no love lost between those two schools, and it’s one of those games you always look forward to playing. … I think it’s a new East Valley rivalry.”
To see the full 2014 schedule for all Division I football, visit www.aia365.com/schedules/football/d1?school=0&year=2014.
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