Just because the schools are a little bit smaller doesn’t mean the competition isn’t just as stiff.
The paths for the top East Valley football contenders in Divisions II and III are no less strenuous than their Division I counterparts. In fact, they may even be harder.
Division II Mesquite looks to improve on its 11-2 record a year ago, when it made it to the state semifinals before being eliminated by Chaparral.
The Wildcats open with Gilbert before heading for a tough road game against Williams Field, which they lost to 32-21 a year ago.
The middle of the schedule opens up a bit with three games against Ironwood, Corona del Sol and Westwood, all of which were under .500 in section play in 2013.
The end of the schedule will be good preparation for a state tournament berth with a home date with Marcos de Niza and a road test at Campo Verde.
“We feel it’s pretty challenging,” Mesquite coach Jim Jones said. “We’ve got some pretty solid teams on our schedule … we feel we’ve got the ability to get to the playoffs and that’s what our goal is.”
Campo Verde and coach Max Ragsdale surprised many last year by going 9-3, and the Coyotes hope to improve on that success this year.
Campo Verde is aiming for a 4-0 start as it opens with Barry Goldwater, Catalina Magnet, Thunderbird and Gilbert before passing up a bye week and adding an 11th game against defending state champion Salpointe Catholic.
“We always like to gauge ourselves as a program,” Ragsdale said. “If we want to be the best, we got to play the best, so that’s why we picked them up.”
After the Lancers, Campo Verde heads to Highland and Marcos de Niza before closing against Westwood, Coconino, Poston Butte and Mesquite.
At the Division III level, Tempe will look to rebound from a first-round ouster in the 2013 playoffs.
The Buffaloes could very well start 5-0 before meeting Washington on Oct. 2, which was Tempe’s lone regular-season loss last year. Games against Central, Phoenix Christian, Moon Valley and a home finale against Alhambra round out Tempe’s schedule.
For now, coach Brian Walker’s only focus is on the season opener at Maricopa.
“I think they’re going to be much improved,” Walker said of the Rams. “They’re obviously returning a lot (of players) coming back, so that’s what we’re focusing on right now is Maricopa. Job No. 1.”
Williams Field, a team that finished 11-2 a year ago, will be tested early. The Black Hawks welcome Mesquite in their second game of the year, a game they won 32-21 in 2013.
Williams Field made a habit of blowing teams out last year, winning eight games by 20 or more points. It will be hard-pressed to do that again, especially with a difficult stretch to close the season.
The Black Hawks and coach Steve Campbell have road games at defending Division III state champion Saguaro, Queen Creek and Shadow Ridge before closing out their season at home against Higley.
“It’s a month of battle by the time we get to that point,” Campbell said.
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