The state’s high school football schedules were released Friday, so it’s time to take a look at some of the most intriguing matchups of the fall.
The majority of the teams play the same opponents as last year, so revenge may be a common theme.
Here is a look at 10 games to watch when football season rolls around:
Aug. 24: Desert Mountain at Mountain View
Chad DeGrenier couldn’t turn Mountain View around in a year, as the Toros struggled to a 4-6 mark last season. Several young players saw action and DeGrenier has a track record of getting his teams to continually improve, but it will be a tough task in the season opener. Mountain View will face off with Desert Mountain, a team that won last year’s matchup 43-7. The Wolves return quarterback Kyle Allen and wide receiver Mark Andrews, one of the most lethal passing combinations in the state. Mountain View may not win this game, but being more competitive would at least bode well moving forward.
Aug. 25: Santa Margarita (Calif.) at Brophy (at Phoenix College)
Brophy will be on the short list of favorites for the Division I state championship when the season begins. Rancho Santa Margarita, the defending state champions in California, may be one of the best teams in the entire country. It’s a tough matchup for the Broncos, but one that should be a good test early and should pay off in the long run. Brophy will play this game just three days after facing off with Mountain Ridge, so it’s certainly not the ideal amount of preparation time. However, it was the only way to schedule both games, so Brophy’s hope will be to dominate Mountain Ridge early and get the starters out to prepare for the showdown with Santa Margarita.
Aug. 31: Marcos de Niza at Chaparral
The Padres once again have a plethora of talented players, led by defensive back Priest Willis, the top senior recruit in the state. Marcos de Niza has had talent the past few seasons but has not gotten over the hump against Chaparral, including when the Firebirds beat the Padres for the 5A-II title in 2009. Chaparral loses Connor Brewer, Davonte Neal and several other college-bound players from a season ago, and this will be a rebuilding season of sorts under new coach Dave Huffine. However, this is Chaparral we are talking about, so anything less than a deep playoff run will be met with disappointment. The Firebirds will be tested several times out of the gate, and this game against Marcos de Niza will be a good barometer for both sides.
Sept 13: Basha at Chandler
These teams matched up for one of the most entertaining games of the season a year ago with the Bears pulling out a 58-41 win. Neither defense had much luck in the track meet of a game. Basha went on to make the Division I semifinals but have lost many players to graduation and transfer. Chandler, not surprisngly, is again stocked with playmakers. This is coach Shaun Aguano’s second season at the helm, and it will be interesting to see if the program is going to make strides toward elite status or if the underachieving theme remains.
Sept. 28: Desert Ridge at Red Mountain
The Mountain Lions upset Desert Ridge in the regular season and the Jaguars repaid the favor in the playoffs a year ago. These east Mesa programs are both in the upper echelon of Division I and are developing a solid rivalry. Desert Ridge has championship game and semifinal appearances the past two seasons but lost Parker Rasmussen, Joey Counts and Jordan Becerra. Red Mountain must replace Marcus Brantley but has some solid pieces back from a year ago. The winner of this game has a legitimate case as the best team in Mesa.
Sept. 28: Saguaro at Desert Vista
Last year’s game was a classic, as the Thunder rallied from a 28-6 halftime deficit to win on a last-second field goal. Both teams went on to win their respective state championships and despite the big enrollment gap, this should be another competitive affair. The Sabercats have the talent to hang with the state’s best, but the lack of depth is a detriment. Participation is up at the school this season, but it remains to be seen how much gas will be left in the tank for the Sabercats when the fourth quarter rolls around.
Sept. 28: Mountain Pointe at Brophy
Once again, Brophy does not have the type of schedule that will give it trouble week in and week out. However, there are some tough games spliced in, including this one against the Pride. Mountain Pointe went just 6-4 a season ago but has several Division I prospects on its team and should be competitive. Jalen Brown is one of the state’s top juniors, while Kenny Lacy and Natrell Curtis anchor a top-notch offensive line. Brophy counters with the dynamic duo of quarterback Tyler Bruggman and wide receiver Devon Allen, as well as several other standouts. The Broncos could go undefeated against Arizona competition in the regular season, with this game the last good chance for an opponent to knock the Broncos off.
Oct. 5: Desert Vista at Hamilton
The Thunder shocked the high school football community with their dissection of Hamilton in last year’s 45-19 Division I championship game rout. The Huskies were aiming for an unprecedented fourth straight big school championship but came up short in a game Desert Vista controlled from start to finish. Both teams have plenty of talent returning and are expected to once again be in the running for the championship. Hamilton wants revenge and will finally get that chance in early October.
Oct. 25: Chaparral at Saguaro
We all know what happened last year. Saguaro and Chaparral were the best teams in their respective divisions and the state’s fiercest rivalry was set to ramp up again following a two-year hiatus. However, former Sabercats coach John Sanders sat his star players because he didn’t want to risk serious injuries heading into the postseason and Chaparral won 65-0. Both Sanders and Firebirds coach Charlie Ragle have moved on to the college ranks, and new coaches Jason Mohns (Saguaro) and Dave Huffine (Chaparral) don’t have the same vitriol for each other. This game might not have the same drama as in the past, but it will still match up two of the best football programs in the state.
Oct. 26: Williams Field at Queen Creek
Williams Field made the championship game two years ago and has had a great run since moving up to the varsity level three seasons ago. However, Queen Creek beat the Black Hawks last year in the regular season and advanced deeper into the playoffs. The Bulldogs have solid talent coming back, and Joe Germaine is trying to establish his program as the premier one in the area. Williams Field loses Alex Howard but has Sean Schweichler returning to lead the way. These two teams are the class of Division III in the southeast valley, and this will again be a much-anticipated matchup to end the regular season.