It was another memorable football postseason, as Hamilton assumed its familiar place atop Division I, while Queen Creek and Seton Catholic also won championships.
Injuries were a common theme this year, as Brophy and Desert Ridge each watched a pair of stars become hobbled late in the year, which hurt their title chances. From low-scoring games to shootouts, from close games to blowouts, the playoffs had a little bit of everything.
Here is a look back at the most memorable moments from November’s postseason:
Queen Creek wins title on unlikely ending
The Bulldogs won games convincingly all year on their march to the title game, but used a little bit of luck to hoist the hardware. Queen Creek’s smallest margin of victory leading up to its clash with Goodyear Desert Edge was an 11-point win over Phoenix Thunderbird in the state quarterfinals. However, the Division III championship game seemed destined for overtime as the Scorpions lined up to punt the ball from their 25-yard line with 19 seconds left. However, the snap sailed high and Tucker Workman tackled Desert Edge punter Chris Brown in the end zone for a safety and a 9-7 victory. Queen Creek finished the year 14-0 and won the first football state championship in school history.
Seton romps through White Mountains
Spectators used to the White Mountain small-school football dominance patiently waited for Seton Catholic to wilt against that competition, but it never happened. The Sentinels were handled easily by Lakeside Blue Ridge in last year’s Division IV semifinals, but took out three quality programs from up north to win this year’s title. Seton rallied to beat Cottonwood Mingus in the quarterfinals, then cruised past Show Low in the semifinals. It set up a rematch with Blue Ridge in the title game, and Seton came out swinging. The Sentinels defense hung tough against the Yellow Jackets’ vaunted rushing attack and quarterback Ryan Bresnahan had a fantastic first quarter as Seton went on to the 28-7 victory.
Huskies bite back
An unprecedented two-game losing streak (three straight including last year’s loss to Desert Vista in the Division I state championship) consumed Hamilton to begin the season. A late Hamilton turnover turned into a game winning drive for Mountain Pointe in the season opener, followed by a four-turnover meltdown against Notre Dame (California) in Ireland. The Huskies returned from that eternally long flight, made some changes defensively, in the playbook and having Cole Luke play some snaps on offense. Three months later, the Huskies won their seventh championship in school history and fifth under coach Steve Belles (tied with Jesse Parker for most by a “big school” coach in Arizona high school football history). The two forces all season behind this year’s title run, Hamilton and its current 12-game winning streak was led by stifling defense and special teams, as the Huskies dominated in the first half against Mountain Pointe and ruined the Pride’s first state championship game appearance.
Injuries derail Brophy’s late-season run
The Broncos were the preseason No. 1 pick, and after struggling in the first part of the season, seemed to be peaking at the right time as the playoffs hit. Brophy put its offensive arsenal on full display in a first-round win over Chandler, and it seemed like if anyone had a chance to knock off Hamilton, this was the team to do it. However, star wide receiver Devon Allen sprained his ankle at the end of that game, and while he downplayed the severity, he was a non-factor the rest of the way. Running back Marche Dennard missed the Chandler game and was limited in the next two rounds, also because of an ankle sprain. Allen didn’t play in the quarterfinals against Red Mountain and Dennard wasn’t anywhere near strength. The Broncos slipped by with a 14-13 victory, but the run ended the next week. Both Allen and Dennard played in the semifinals against Mountain Pointe, but they were clearly still banged up, and the Pride cruised to a 30-0 win, ending Brophy’s season not just with pain, but with plenty of questions.
Health is huge
Brophy’s playoffs fortunes painted a picture of the importance of being healthy in the postseason (even moreso than the regular season given the uptick in competition every week), but Highland and Desert Ridge added its own brushes to the casualty canvas. The Hawks were ravaged by injuries late in the regular season and a postseason run was quickly doused. The Jaguars earned the No. 2 seed in Div. I, but lost its best offensive lineman (Josh Scow), running back JJ Husar and quarterback Tarek Morrison to serious injuries, but the Jaguars’ underrated defense and offensive line took control in wins against Surprise Valley Vista and Avondale Westview. Despite a quarterback (Brendon Smith) making his first varsity start, pushed Hamilton for 3 1/2 quarters in the semifinals before the Jaguars ran out of offense.
Neither Saguaro nor Chaparral had the same dominating regular seasons as each was accustomed, but both entered its respective playoffs as state championship contenders. However, the Firebirds’ run of three straight championships and Saguaro’s aim at its sixth in seven years both fell apart quickly. Both teams cruised in their opening round matchups but were knocked off in the quarterfinals. Saguaro lost to a top-seeded Desert Edge team which made the championship game. The Sabercats had a chance to win the contest late but quarterback Luke Rubenzer fumbled at the Scorpions’ 15-yard line as Desert Edge held on for the 38-35 victory. Chaparral fell into a deep hole early on against Marcos de Niza, and while it clawed back to within two scores, ran out of time in a 49-36 loss. Both schools are expected to be right back in the mix next year, but for one season both went home much earlier than expected.
(Nearly) too close to call
Aside from the Queen Creek-Desert Edge finale in Div. III, there wasn’t much drama on Championship Saturday, but there was plenty in the weeks leading up. Saguaro-Desert Edge in Div. III went down to the wire before Desert Edge completed a 35-point second half with a one-point to erase a 21-3 halftime deficit and knock out the two-time defending-champion Sabercats. Desert Ridge’s injury-riddled lineup played with Hamilton until late in the fourth quarter of their Div. I semifinal. Remember the Desert Vista-Basha opening-round matchup in which D.V. led 28-21 after the first quarter? That wound up a 35-28 win for Desert Vista. Brophy-Chandler was a close shootout, while Desert Ridge-Westview was a low-scoring nail-biter in the quarterfinals. Horizon’s return to the postseason under Doug Schaffer ended in early heartbreak, a 24-20 loss to Glendale Apollo. Seton Catholic needed — and received — a huge second-half comeback against Cottonwood Mingus in the Div. IV quarterfinals as QB Ryan Bresnahan threw four touchdowns. Williams Field’s run to the Div. III semifinals required a second narrow victory against Campo Verde in the opening round, and Tempe Prep’s deepest postseason run to date was stopped by a 10-7 loss to Morenci in the Div. V semifinals.