Perhaps this is going to outdate thyself. It’s easy to live in the past and remember the olden days.
For years (probably longer) it was “offense wins games, defense wins championships.” About five years ago, most everyone — including the East Valley high school football scene — began to ditch that tired trend and install quick-moving, fast-paced, run-and-gun offenses which had been around for years prior, but were widely viewed as a sideshow or circus more than something of substance.
These days, nearly everyone is doing some variation of the “chuck-’n-duck.”
But the song remains the same.
Through filtration, sifting and weeding out, it’s down to the final four in Division I, II and III.
In Div. I, it’s No. 1 Mountain Pointe, No. 2 Chandler, No. 3 Hamilton and No. 4 Desert Ridge.
In Div. II, it’s No. 1 Tucson Salpointe Catholic, No. 2 Mesquite, No. 3 Chaparral and No. 12 Glendale Deer Valley.
In Div. III, it’s No. 1 Williams Field, No. 2 Saguaro, No. 3 Goodyear Desert Edge and No. 4 Queen Creek.
Why? That dreaded, boring ‘D’ word.
Yes, teams are still turning offense into a real-life video game, but all four Div. I schools are here because of how they’ve defended this Xbox and PlayStation era. Mountain Pointe has stifled everyone it’s met. The Wolves have scored as often as anyone in high school football the past five years, but this Chandler team is unlike the others because of its defense. Hamilton wins nearly every week because of what it did to Pinnacle’s running game and QB Brian Lewerke on Friday night. For three quarters against Brophy, Desert Ridge did what the Jaguars have quietly done for three consecutive years. The Huskies and Jaguars are playing as if this was the black-and-white television era.
Make that, still playing.
Same goes in Div. II, where Salpointe Catholic continues to dominate everyone, Chaparral beat Marcos de Niza because it hounded QB Josh Eckley and shut down the Padres’ running game. Mesquite has taken pages from Hamilton in its running game and defensive prowess all season: a fast, physical bunch up front and in the secondary. No. 12-seed Deer Valley pulled off the big (and only) upset of Friday night’s playoffs by shutting down Peoria Centennial’s offense.
Even with starting QB Jeddediah Fagg — and moreso now without him — Williams Field’s strength has been defense and running the ball. Queen Creek lives by it because the Bulldogs won a championship with that formula in 2012.
Saguaro and Desert Edge are the two outliers here, teams which can score so many points and so quickly, the smaller-sized schools can’t keep up.
What’s going to decide that scrumptious matchup? (Actually, they’re all scrumptious matchups next week).
Whichever team stops the other one first.
Of the 12 remaining teams in the top three divisions, 10 are still playing because they’ve relied on the guys who almost never touch the football.
What a concept.
• Seedings: The bellyaching about not knowing what actually determines weekly seedings — and not just in football — is understandable. Yet for a second consecutive postseason, the playoff seedings of the top three divisions has been almost perfect. Only Deer Valley at No. 12 in Div. II has ruined what’s otherwise another “chalk” alignment of the brackets, Nos. 1 through 4. Those formulas from outer space may be indecipherable and insufferable, but they’ve been right again.
• Desert Ridge: Four years ago, the Jaguars were throwing on nearly every down, set a couple passing records and turned the ball a lot. These days, they barely throw four attempts per game and set rushing records. With more than 500 yards rushing in a win over Brophy on Friday, the Jaguars toppled Tucson High’s big-school team record set in 1970, and junior Taren Morrison is on his way to breaking a couple more records if this continues. When a defense and the world know what’s coming (Morrison) and it doesn’t matter, you’re a pretty good team.
• Cules Rose: It was ultimately for naught as Pinnacle got pushed around in the second half by Hamilton, but those who saw Pioneers’ receiver Cules Rose’s juggling, one-handed, Cirque-du-Soleil moves while sprinting as he hauled in a touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke, immediately called it the play of the year. A day or two later, it hasn’t changed anyone’s mind. Soon enough it’ll be on YouTube or Hudl if you missed it. It needs to be.
• Basha: Despite what Chandler has shown us this season (including the first meeting between these two Chandler schools, also a Chandler blowout), it’s hard to believe the Wolves were a 49-0 halftime lead better than Basha. What happened? Several witnesses were in agreement the Bears simply didn’t show up. While last week’s thrilling win over Horizon was physically and emotionally draining, how could a team not be “up” for a quarterfinal playoff game against a rival? Were there bigger issues at play here? What went wrong?
• First half: Despite a wonderful comeback by Campo Verde to force overtime against Mesquite, the Coyotes’ first-half misery proved more costly than anything in their loss. It nearly knocked out No. 1 Williams Field against No. 8 Canyon del Oro before the Black Hawks rallied from a 13-0 halftime hole. Everyone knows getting off to a good start is imperative in playoff games, and Williams Field was a different team after halftime, but given the four teams left at each level, a two-possession (or more) deficit at halftime isn’t going to be easily erased anymore.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.