Never has 13-1 ever felt so "perfect."
Desert Vista senior quarterback Hunter Rodriguez is well aware that he and his Thunder teammates didn't finish their football season with an unblemished win-loss mark. But considering how the Thunder won, who they defeated, and the stage it happened on, Rodriguez is OK with calling the 2011 season one of perfection after Desert Vista's 45-19 throttling of state juggernaut Hamilton.
"Beating the one team we lost to proves that we are the best team in the state," Rodriguez said, dismissive of the team's lone loss - a 35-10 defeat earlier in the year against the same Hamilton team - but respectful of how that helped the Thunder become a better team on this day. "I couldn't be more happy with that."
Like clockwork, that buzzword - "perfect" - tends to pop up the week any team is set to play perennial state football power like the Huskies. On one hand, the vaunted Huskies have grown their own legacy living by the word; you'd have to be darn near close to perfect to rattle off a 53-game winning streak spanning the better part of four full seasons.
On the other hand, "being perfect" is how every team knows it has to play if it wants to do what Desert Vista did Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale - end the nation's longest prep winning streak, knock off a three-time defending champion, and ascend to the crest of the Arizona high school football mountain.
Perhaps most amazing in the Thunder's seemingly flawless night was that Desert Vista had otherwise imperfect moments that might have caused other teams on this stage, against this type of opposition, to crumble. Late in the first half, leading 21-7 after scoring the game's first three touchdowns, Desert Vista had a chance to pad its cushion with either a touchdown or possible field goal inside 20 seconds to go before the break. Rodriguez was pressured and threw an interception, that some might say took points off the board. It also happened in the third quarter, with the Thunder still leading 21-7, and kicker Scotty Goldfein's 51-yard field goal try bouncing off the left upright on the NFL-sized goalpost - a kick that would have been easily good on a typical high school field with regular high school uprights.
Desert Vista senior running back Dominic Kereluk explained, however, that the makeup of this Thunder team wouldn't let that happen.
"This whole week we believed we could do this," Kereluk said. "That's all I can pretty much say. But it was preparation, and focusing on the little keys they gave us, and belief. We believed."
Kereluk echoed his head coach, Dan Hinds, in noting that he chose not to turn on the computer or pick up the newspaper this week. He didn't want to hear people talk about Desert Vista as an underdog, even though he knew it could be motivation.
"I didn't really listen to it. The newspapers, nothing. I just believed," he said. "But I think (people) saying we were an underdog was a great thing for us. It pumped us up to come to this game and show what we had."
Jarek Hilgers, who scored the game's first touchdown that set the rout - Hamilton gave up more points on this day than they had in any single game prior - added that even if everyone else didn't think the Thunder could be good enough, or perfect enough, to defeat Hamilton, he and his teammates never felt like underdogs themselves.
"No, I don't think we felt like we were underdogs," he said. "We all came into this game knowing we could win. We couldn't doubt ourselves."
And by not doubting themselves, the Thunder left no doubt against Hamilton.