If this was only a tune-up, it’s going to be a pretty boring 5A-I state tournament.
Hamilton is running on all cylinders as it readies for the start of its title defense next week, jumping out to a 34-0 halftime lead and cruising to a 41-6 victory over Mesa in a Fiesta Region contest on Thursday night at Hamilton.
While the Huskies allowed teams to hang around in games earlier this season, they have been a well-oiled machine the past couple weeks and will enter the postseason as the top seed and a heavy favorite to win a third straight state title.
“That’s what you want as a coaching staff, for your kids to get better as the season goes on,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “We’re doing that, and it couldn’t happen at a better time, going into the playoffs.”
Kyren Poe was 5-for-6 for 155 yards and a touchdown and Jai Johnson had 107 yards rushing and three touchdowns, as Hamilton pulled most of its starters by early in the second half.
This was a rematch of last year’s championship game, but while Mesa was rebuilding this season, Hamilton just reloaded. The Huskies (11-0, 5-0) scored on three of their first six offensive plays from scrimmage, jumping out to a 20-0 lead in less than eight minutes of action.
“Game over,” Mesa coach Kelley Moore said.
Johnson scored twice in the second quarter to push the lead to 34, and Hamilton scored on its first offensive possession of the second half when Just’n Tymes caught a deflected pass for a 25-yard touchdown with 11:11 remaining in the third quarter for a 41-0 lead.
Tymes had two catches for 80 yards, and backup quarterback Blake Kemp was 3-for-6 for 79 yards and two scores. Kemp made a few appearances in the first half, as he has done in the last few games, but Belles said it will be exclusively Poe under center when the game is in doubt in the postseason. The goal was to just get Kemp meaningful minutes with the starters in case of an injury.
“That was to make sure that, if we’re in that situation, he feels comfortable,” Belles said. “Poe’s going to be the guy we go with.”
The Jackrabbits threw an interception, lost a pair of fumbles, and had two snaps fly over the punter’s head.
Against Hamilton, there’s no way of overcoming that.
The Jackrabbits had a chance of making the postseason with an improbable upset of the Huskies, but that possibility was squashed in the opening minutes. Quarterback Jeremy Noble had 91 yards rushing for Mesa and was 6-for-13 passing for 94 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Mesa linebacker Tony Vaitafa didn't play because of a team rules violation.
The Jackrabbits didn’t score until the fourth quarter, when Hamilton’s first-string defense was off the field.
“When the defense comes out and plays hard, we shift the momentum to the offense, and they carry it,” Hamilton linebacker Tyler Rutt said. “We’re getting turnovers and getting them the ball, so that helps.”