Seven coaches (John Sanders, Charlie Ragle, Mike Reardon, Kelley Moore, Richard Milligan, Mike Gibbons and Pete Wahlheim) either changed schools or became head coaches for the first time at East Valley schools in 2007.
With one game left in the regular season, the results have been mixed. All have either qualified for the postseason or have a shot depending on tonight’s outcomes.
Four are definitely playoff bound. Three are on the bubble. One of the latter trio won’t get in.
The most successful according to the win-loss records are Sanders at Scottsdale Saguaro and Ragle at Scottsdale Chaparral. They became head honchos after serving as assistants, so they had a thorough knowledge of their players and programs.
Saguaro, the defending 4A-I state champion, is 9-0 with an unbeaten showdown against 4A perennial power Glendale Cactus looming tonight.
Chaparral is 7-2. The Firebirds haven’t been down or out of the playoff picture since 1995.
The tasks of Milligan (Apache Junction), Moore (Mesa) and Gibbons (Tempe McClintock) have been tougher. They inherited playoff-programs from 2006, but were not on varsity staffs at their new school last year. New staffs and players have to meld.
Milligan took over for Max Ragsdale as A.J. was moving back up to 4A-I. That meant renewing matchups with Chaparral and Saguaro and a newcomer from 5A-II, Paradise Valley. The jump from 4A-II to 4A-I is a tough one (see Cave Creek Cactus Shadows), but the Prospectors have survived with a 6-4 record and a playoff berth assured heading into the season finale with McClintock.
Moore inherited a playoff team three years in the making from Dennis Parker. The Jackrabbits’ schedule this season was loaded. It’s highly likely eight of Mesa’s opponents are going to be in the playoffs next week. Mesa is 5-4 and faces Red Mountain tonight. With a little luck, the Rabbits could be 7-2, with last-minute (Mountain View) or last-second losses (Dobson) stinging.
McClintock is 3-6 with Gibbons at the controls. The Chargers’ playoff hopes hinge
on beating A.J. tonight and losses by Cactus Shadows and Tucson Sahuaro. The Chargers haven’t beaten a playoff-caliber team among their three wins. Gibbons has coached before at McClintock, but is several seasons removed from that stint. Winning tonight and sneaking in would make that first year feel pretty good.
Reardon and Wahlheim, who coached together for a year during Reardon’s stint at Gilbert Highland in the late ’90s, are both under .500 in their first year at their new locations. The winner of tonight’s game has a shot at postseason (Highland would finish 5-5 with a win; Gilbert Mesquite 4-6.) Mesquite’s rigorous schedule might be the difference if it wins and Phoenix Mountain Pointe loses to Phoenix Desert Vista.
Triple-threat players don’t come along often, but Chandler Hamilton’s Gerell Robinson has left a mark this season for the 9-0 Huskies. Robinson has a combined 1,520 yards rushing, passing and receiving. He’s accounted for 16 touchdowns (10 rushing and receiving, six passing).
Coach Steve Belles has meshed Robinson and Justin Peters well in a platoon, particularly when both were healthy. It looks like Belles can continue mixing the two tonight with Peters scheduled to resume action after missing the last two games (three weeks with a bye) due to a foot injury suffered at Gilbert.
GAME PLAN THIS
Phoenix Pinnacle was expecting to see Gilbert Highland quarterback Jeremy Fuhst line up against it last week. But the Hawks senior quarterback was idled by a knee injury suffered against Gilbert the week before and unable to play.
Highland coach Pete Wahlheim did some shuffling. He moved standout wideout Ty West to quarterback to face Pinnacle. West went from a top-flight receiver to behind center where he rushed for 131 yards on 19 carries. The downside to the switch was two interceptions thrown and a fumble lost by West. With the Hawks struggling and down 31-14 in the second half, Wahlheim switched QBs again, inserting James Pazos, normally a tight end, at quarterback while returning West to receiver. Pazos completed 7 of 8 passes for 84 yards. Four of those completions were to West.
“They did a good job having three days to prepare,” Wahlheim said of West and Pazos.
Barring a couple major upsets tonight, all six Mesa and three Chandler schools will qualify for the state playoffs. This would be the second straight year Chandler has accomplished that feat and the first time in Mesa’s history (since it has had six schools). That would mean half of the 2007 5A-I state tournament field hails from Mesa and Chandler.
Forty-four schools in the Tribune’s coverage area compete for football playoff berths from 5A through 1A. With one night to go in the regular season, 32 are in or will be.
One more may qualify with a win and some help. That would mean 33 of 44 earned at least an extra game. Seventy-five percent is a pretty fair number of qualifiers and speaks to the football prowess of the East Valley.
Region title bouts
Thursday night’s Chandler Basha vs. Tempe Corona del Sol game was the first of five head-to-head matchups that will decide region champions the final week of regular-season play. That game decided the 5A Central Region champ.
Other regions up for grabs this evening: Chandler vs. Chandler Hamilton (5A Fiesta Region); Phoenix Brophy vs. Glendale Mountain Ridge (5A Desert Valley); Tempe Marcos de Niza vs. Mesa Desert Ridge (5A Pima) and Gilbert Higley vs. Queen Creek (4A East Sky).
Five East Valley teams that haven’t earned a playoff berth still have a chance. Phoenix Mountain Pointe, Gilbert Highland and Gilbert Mesquite are looking for 5A-I berths. Cave Creek Cactus Shadows and Tempe McClintock are competing for the final spot in 4A-I with Tucson Sahuaro, Phoenix Shadow Mountain, Tucson Catalina Foothills and Glendale Copper Canyon.
“Lose four games in a month and still have a chance to get in? That doesn’t happen often.”
Pete Wahlheim, Gilbert Highland coach who still has a shot
Scottsdale Christian running back Ryan Tulley had 208 yards and two touchdowns (88 and 61 yards) on 19 carries in a 43-21 win over Chandler Valley Christian on Oct. 26.