The 2013 football schedules have officially been released, and Friday night’s lights are quickly approaching.
The addition of more freedom games has seemingly added more prime time games to the list, as each week has its share of high-profile showdowns.
Here are the 15 most intriguing games to watch in this year’s regular season:
Centennial at Chandler
The season ramps up quickly with this matchup between traditional powers. The Coyotes made the Division II title game last season, and while they lose star running back Jalen Ortiz, the cupboard is never bare. The Wolves should have a dynamic offense, but this is expected to be the first varsity game at quarterback for Bryce Perkins. He’s very talented and will get a tough test immediately. Chandler enters this season similarly to others — with talent marking the roster but with questions as to how well it will translate into wins. We’ll know early on their strengths and weaknesses.
Saguaro at Chaparral
One of the hottest rivalries in the state returns. The Firebirds and Sabercats were not their typical dominant selves last season but each return plenty of talent. Saguaro quarterback Luke Rubenzer recently committed to California and should lead an explosive offense. His main target will be RB/WR Christian Kirk, arguably the state’s top recruit in 2015. The Firebirds have some nice offensive weapons themselves, led by wide receiver Tyler Whiley and tight end Trevor Wood. It’s Year 2 for coaches Dave Huffine (Chaparral) and Jason Mohns (Saguaro). The Firebirds won last year’s contest, and this early-season battle will be a good litmus test for both sides.
Chaparral at Marcos de Niza
These two teams played one of the best games of last year’s regular season when the Padres scored on an 11-yard touchdown run by quarterback Josh Eckley as time expired for a 29-27 win. Marcos de Niza then blasted Chaparral in the Division II quarterfinals before losing in the semis. Eckley returns for the Padres, but Priest Willis, Mauriece Lee and Paul Elvira graduated while Dominique Fenstermacher and Kamron Johnson transferred. Marcos de Niza has been a perennial contender, but this game should help show if the team will be rebuilding or not in 2013.
Mountain Pointe at Chandler
This is lining up to be a battle of strengths. With Jalen Brown and Fenstermacher in the secondary and Natrell Curtis and Wesley Payne highlighting the front seven, Mountain Pointe should have one of the best defenses in the state. Perkins and wide receivers Mitch McCulley and Dionte Sykes, meanwhile, headline the explosive Wolves offense. The Pride is expected to be the main challenger to Hamilton this season, but Chandler can make an early play with a good performance in this matchup.
Red Mountain at Brophy
Ears perked up when Red Mountain went to Phoenix College and knocked off Brophy, 33-31, at around this point of the 2012 season. It could happen again, but the more interesting twist here is what each of these respective teams will look like at this point. Brophy was pegged reached the 2012 semifinals and even a championship appearance last year was in the works, but the Broncos were hampered by injuries (especially on offense) and lost to Mountain Pointe. All those key contributors graduated (QB Tyler Bruggman, WR Devon Allen and Clarence Clark, RB Marche Dennard) as did a host of linebackers and defensive backs, so the Broncos will be significantly raw in several spots. But the schedule is arguably the most difficult in Arizona, and with Desert Mountain, Centennial and Hamilton (and Desert Ridge after this game), it’s possible Brophy is 1-4 or 0-5 to begin the season. The schedule is no kinder to the Lions, and it makes this a potentially important swing game for both schools to make the playoffs.
Chaparral at Desert Mountain
The long-standing Shea Blvd. sweepstakes went Desert Mountain’s way last year, the first time in a couple matchups it had done so after Chaparral’s previously-dominance. Shenanigans on the Chaparral field before last year’s matchup (won by Desert Mountain in a thriller) sprinkled another ingredient to this battle. Desert Mountain could be an elite program this year with the powerful duo of Kyle Allen and Mark Andrews. Chaparral suffered some growing pains in the first half of 2013 with a couple nail-biting losses, but the Firebirds reached the Div. II quarterfinals and has a wealth of talent returning. Coaches and players have known each other for several years. It’s a neighborhood thing. And it’s a game that’s going to matter in the rankings.
Marcos de Niza at Salpointe Catholic
Many are pegging the Lancers as the team to beat in Division II. Quarterback Andrew Cota and wide receiver Cam Denson return, and the addition of Kaelin DeBoskie should make Salpointe tough to beat. There are questions about Marcos de Niza because of the defections from last year, but the program is never short on impact players. It’s going to be a tall order for the Padres to win this game, especially in Tucson. We’ll see if they’re up to the task.
Hamilton at Mountain Pointe
Let’s go beyond the simple “re-match” from last year’s Division I championship game won by Hamilton. A lot of kids from both schools will line up again (Hamilton’s defense and Mountain Pointe’s offense boast the most returning starters on each team), and both sides are aware that whatever outcome unfolds in the regular season the past couple years has wound up being the complete opposite in state championship matchups (Desert Vista vs. Hamilton twice in 2011, Mountain Pointe vs. Hamilton twice in 2012). Both schools tried to not play each other when the “freedom” scheduling began out of a sense the schools might see each other in the playoffs again. But other games fell through and it became such a muddled mess, that here we go again.
Queen Creek at Saguaro
In his first two years at the helm, Queen Creek coach Joe Germaine’s season ended at the hands of Saguaro. The teams ended up on opposite sides of the playoff bracket last year, and while the Sabercats dropped out early, the Bulldogs went on to win the Division III state championship. Queen Creek returns running back Matt Guida, the Tribune’s Player of the Year, but little else. The program has reached new heights, and wants to stick as a perennial contender. If it can hang with Saguaro in somewhat of a rebuilding year, it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Mountain Pointe at Desert Vista
The ‘Tukee Bowl went to Mountain Pointe last year, but the rise of both programs simultaneously in the past three years made this always-heated gamenight a bit warmer. The Thunder have a bit more rebuilding to do than Mountain Pointe in 2013 because the Pride have QB Antonio Hinojosa, WR/DB Jalen Brown, OL Natrell Curtis, LB Wesley Payne, transfer Dominique Fenstermacher (from Marcos de Niza), and more experience than D.V. after the Thunder’s massive senior classes the past two seasons. Mountain Pointe earned a third-quarter safety for the only points of the second half in a 23-21 win over the Thunder last season, and, to throw another nugget onto this platter, this game could have Section IV championship implications in this new two-year scheduling block.
Basha at Hamilton
With the addition of star running back/defensive back J.T. Gray via transfer from Coolidge, the Bears have jumped into the conversation as one of the main contenders to knock off Hamilton. Between Gray and Rajhan Meriwether, Basha might have the most dynamic rushing duo in the state. Add in quarterback Zach Werlinger, and this team will put up points on almost everybody. The question is: Can it do so against Hamilton? The Huskies could have one of the best defenses we’ve seen in years, led by defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham and a stout secondary. There’s plenty of intrigue surrounding this game, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the teams met again in the postseason later on.
Queen Creek at Williams Field
These two teams are the class of the southeast valley in Division III. Both squads lost a lot of firepower from last year but have the types of programs to reload quickly. The Bulldogs are the defending champions while the Black Hawks made the semifinals in 2012. While Queen Creek doesn’t return many of its skill guys, it does have Guida, who rushed for 227 yards and a touchdown in last year’s 49-6 win. Williams Field will have to slow him down in order to exact some revenge this season.
Desert Mountain at Desert Ridge
Between quarterback Kyle Allen and wide receiver Mark Andrews, the Wolves have the best aerial attack in the state. Behind quarterback Tarek and running back Taren Morrison, Desert Ridge should have a dynamite rushing attack once again. This game should be plenty of fun as teams with different offensive philosophies match up. The Jaguars have been in the state title mix for the past three seasons and should be there once again. Desert Mountain doesn’t have the same pedigree, but Allen and Andrews are two nationally-ranked recruits who are looking to lift the program to new heights.
Basha at Chandler
Does anyone remember that Basha led 17-0 at halftime of this matchup last year? Probably not except the Bears themselves. Chandler put up 41 points in the second half in a 10-point win. Welcome back to this rivalry, two programs who are close to even as it gets, and, given the schedules for each, might look that way in the rankings to begin November. Chandler has a host of weapons for new QB Bryce Perkins, as does Basha with Coolidge-transfer JT Gray and Rajhan Meriwether in the backfield behind the underrated Zach Werlinger starting under center for the second straight season. In other words, offense has been center stage for both these schools, and yet both promise we’ll see changes defensively in 2013. We might, and if some of those changes are going to stick, this might be the time to show everyone — including themselves.
Red Mountain at Mountain View
Brown Road’s battle went to Mountain View in something of an upset last season. The Toros played their best defensive game of the season, got a game-saving interception from Justin Yetter and won on an overtime field goal by Luis Bustillos before Red Mountain missed its tying field goal attempt in OT. Both teams figure to be in the postseason mix again, and it’ll be hard to duplicate the 2012 matchup of key turnovers, penalties, blocked kicks and other special teams scenes. That’s OK, because let’s face it, these schools don’t need to care about history, aesthetics or anything else to make this matchup count.
Honorable Mention: Aug. 23 — Mountain Pointe at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas); Aug. 30 — Saguaro at Chaparral; Aug. 30 — Maricopa at Tempe; Aug. 30 — Red Mountain at Pinnacle; Sept. 6 — Basha at Centennial; Sept. 13 — Snowflake at Seton Catholic; Sept. 20 — Chaparral at Desert Mountain; Nov. 1 — Saguaro at Marcos de Niza.