It’s hard to find flaw with a two-time defending state champion on a 38-game winning streak, but perhaps the nitpicking helps explain why Hamilton is the program it’s become.
The Huskies underwent a mini-makeover defensively to start the season. With four starters back and Malcolm Holland battling an ankle injury, the Huskies knew they were vulnerable. Even while their winning streak continued, there were holes.
Instead, Hamilton got healthy — the Huskies are as healthy as they’ve been most of the season — entering Friday’s 5A Division I state semifinal against Mountain Pointe — and made a few simplifications.
The Huskies knew their secondary was pretty stable, but Mike Leibock and Tucker Dunn barely saw varsity action before this season. Their growth next to returning starter Tyler Rutt has been pivotal.
The litmus test came against Chandler, a 38-20 victory on national television in which the Huskies’ defensive line and linebackers did everything contrary to what players are coached to do: They simply took up space instead of running around or rushing quarterback Brett Hundley.
A week later, on Oct. 9, the Huskies allowed 14 points to Tucson Salpointe. It’s the last time Hamilton’s defense has allowed more than a touchdown in a game.
“We simplified a little more and not try and do much, but everyone knows their responsibility and now it’s 11 guys not worrying about doing someone else’s job,” Huskies coach Steve Belles said.
Much of that credit goes to defensive coordinator Lane Reynolds and assistants such as Pat Quinn along the defensive line.
The return of All-American offensive tackle Christian Westerman from a deep bone bruise in his knee (if he can successfully navigate the pain) only makes Hamilton more difficult on offense, but Belles raved about his team’s defense.
Vaughan had no trouble picking up where Belles left off.
“We have to play a solid, complete game to have any chance or (Hamilton) could run away with it,” he said. “They have tremendous talent, really don’t have a weakness and they are well coached. They are far and above everyone else. There is no way they should be beat. They are far too talented, but you go out there and do the best you can.”
Mountain Pointe has done that to the tune of a 22-3 record in Vaughan’s two seasons. The Pride have a stable of athletes on defense with Arizona State-bound Izzy Marshall as its heart and soul.
Since getting hammered by Desert Ridge, the Pride underwent a few schematic and personnel changes of their own, with similar success that Hamilton enjoyed. To reinforce the “team” game of football, Vaughan sat a few of his previous weeks’ starters, and it worked since five consecutive wins have followed.
The Pride’s season might be on the ledge against the powerful Huskies, but that’s where they’ve stood tall (7-2 in games decided by one possession or less under Vaughan).
“We feel like you always have to chance,” Vaughan said. “You have to play well in all three areas of the game and we need a little help from them, but they really haven’t shown the propensity to do that.”