One had a turnover that most likely caused his team the game and the other was essentially handcuffed with a bland game plan in the early portion of the season.
The two quarterbacks – Hamilton’s A.J. Thigpen and Mountain Pointe’s Antonio Hinojosa – in the Division I state championship game are very different players than the ones who commanded the huddle on Aug. 24 when the two teams met to open the year.
For the ninth straight year (at least) the Huskies broke in a senior first-year varsity starter in Thigpen and as one would expect, the 6-foot-3, 193-pound dual threat quarterback has gotten better with time.
Game 1 wasn’t all that great - eight rushes for 24 yards rushing, 4 of 8 passing for 68 yards – considering his fumble inside the Pride 10-yard line in the final four minutes with a 14-7 lead. A field goal probably seals the win instead of giving Mountain Pointe the momentum it needed to score twice, including a 22-yard field goal by Ryan Sheehan for the win.
“Those are the mistakes that A.J.S is not making at the end of game like he was early and it makes a huge difference,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said.
The Huskies haven’t kept statistics because their stat guy – Greg Iseman – became ill this season, but it doesn’t take a bunch of numbers to figure out how much he has developed.
“He didn’t have a great week last week, but in terms of how he has played for the last month he has been on a tremendous run,” Belles said. “As long as he manages the offense and does what he has to do within it, he is really good. He doesn’t have to do too much, and when he thinks he does, is kind of when he gets in trouble.”
Hinojosa began the year as left-handed gunslinger that actually threw a lot in the first game – 15 of 27 for 186 yards – because the Hamilton defense essentially forced his hand as the Pride rushed for its lowest total (149 yards) of the season.
While he came out of the first meeting a winner – helped out by an extremely athletic play by Travonn White on a pass that was off the mark on the game-tying 50-yard touchdown – Mountain Pointe mostly relied on the running game in the early part of the season.
But during the second half, the 5-foot-10, 160-pounder got past the ‘just let it fly mentality’ and started to go through his progressions.
“Last year on JV (at Marcos de Niza), I was more of a gunslinger, but coach (Norris) Vaughan trained me to read the defense and go through my progressions,” he said. “That’s when you know are playing good at quarterback, when you get to that third read and complete it.”
Over his last seven games, Hinojosa completed 69.1 percent of his passes (65 of 94) for 1,127 yards including 19 of his 29 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
“It is confidence and being more experienced,” Hinojosa said. “The Brophy game was an eye opener and we’ve be on a roll ever since.”
Offensive coordinator Eric Lauer said Hinojosa’s development has allowed the coaches to change its game plan compared to what the Pride showed against the Huskies in Week 1.
“Initially it was let’s, not keep it safe, but help Antonio manage the game,” Lauer said. “Little by little we pinpointed certain games and put a little more stress on him. It was calculated but with time we have been able to give him more and more.
“We knew we had a good line and good backs coming back. He took it to another level and quietly he has been a major reason why we are here.”