It’s a big leap in competition, a clash of undefeated teams and a possible preview of things to come in November, but neither Queen Creek nor Williams Field is ready to define its season by this game’s outcome.
Still, there will be lots of talent and significance to this clash of Southeast Valley studs.
Along with No. 2 Tucson Sabino, Queen Creek (No. 3) and Williams Field (No. 4) are in a logjam in the Division III power rankings behind Goodyear Desert Edge, so this game will shake things out a bit.
The winner here almost assures itself of two home games in the playoffs. The loser still appears likely to stay in the top eight spots and get a home game given the quality of opponent, but probably not two.
Meanwhile, the Glendale Cactus (No. 7) vs. Peoria Liberty (No. 5) game will also cause a stir in the rankings before the playoff brackets are unveiled on Saturday.
That, both sides say, is when the defining games begin.
Williams Field coach Steve Campbell noted his program’s first year (2009) was a first-round playoff loss. The 2010 team went undefeated in the regular season and beat Notre Dame twice (including triple overtime in the 4A Division II semifinals), but lost to Phoenix Thunderbird in the championship game. Last year’s squad fell to Thunderbird in the first round.
“We’ve been in ‘defining’ games before and it’s meant nothing,” he said. “We beat (Notre Dame) twice in the (2010) season, did we win a state championship? No. How does one game ever define you as a team? It’s just another piece of our season.”
Similarly, Queen Creek knows this could be the best competition its faced this season (along with Campo Verde and Perry). Also similarly, the Bulldogs have been tested only a couple times this season.
But Queen Creek returned a bevy of starters and significant contributors who were sophomores and juniors in in 2011, and it’s a big part of why they feel this Bulldogs unit is superior to last year, both in offensive balance and defensively.
Carson Jones (72 percent completions, 1,461 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT) and Matt Guida (1,744 yards rushing, 21 TD) have been catalysts for that balance, with Gabe Vazquez and Matt Graff catching passes as Q.C. has averaged 484 yards of offense per game.
Defense and the ability to win a couple games during its few struggles this season has been a boon for the 2012 Bulldogs.
Queen Creek’s front seven has been a load for its opponents so far, and the back end is led by Mike Graff with an Arizona-leading eight interceptions (according to MaxPreps.com).
“I think we know who we are and what our identity is,” Bulldogs coach Joe Germaine said. “We know what type of team we can be. The test is can we play up to that capability week in and week out, that’s the ultimate test. We’re talking about young kids and it’s tough to go, I don’t think intensity and hunger is an issue.”
Williams Field has had injury problems the past few weeks, but the Black Hawks counter Queen Creek’s prolific offense with Jeddediah Fagg (1,165 yards passing, 15 TDs, 4 INT), Sean Schweichler (1,031 yards rushing, 22 TD) and Ray Velasquez (653 yards rushing, 9.9 yards per carry). The Black Hawks believe WR Cole Forsgren is close to returning from injury and Jordan Johnson had a big night against Poston Butte last week as an outside receiver. The growth of Fagg and the offensive line have been two of the bigger positives for Williams Field since mid-September.
Further growth can only come against another top-notch team in Div. III. That belief is shared on both sides.
“We’ve always focused on us, not the other team,” Campbell said. “For the kids, there’s no bigger game than what you’re playing at the time. Nobody knows how the (power rankings) system works so a victory is a victory. It’s all about us constantly trying to improve and that’s what we talk about. Let’s play our best football right now and take some steps forward to do that.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.