As a crow flies or car drives, the winner of this week’s closest rivalry game isn’t among the many Division I state title contenders slugging it out against one another.
It’s in the Southeast Valley, where Williams Field and Higley (2.6 miles, according to Google Maps) meet on Friday night at Williams Field H.S. for the fourth time in the schools’ relatively young existence.
Williams Field is in its fourth season as a varsity football program, but it’s owned the series against Higley from the start. The margin of victory in the series’ first three meetings has been 24 points in favor of the Black Hawks.
Can Higley close – or, at least narrow – that gap?
For the Knights (3-2), a couple factors are working in their favor. Higley is plus-6 in turnover margin to Williams Field’s minus-2. The Knights beat Williams Field in a 7-on-7 tournament this summer at the University of Arizona. Williams Field has played Tucson Canyon del Oro and Campo Verde, and Higley’s schedule has been comparable to date with games against Campo Verde and Poston Butte.
“Endure” is this week’s Word of the Week at Higley.
“The thing that’s happened in the past is (Williams Field) has gotten out to a big lead early and it’s been deflating,” Knights coach Eddy Zubey said. “If we can keep it closer for awhile let’s see what happens."
Last year was also the scene of Higley’s fortunes being flushed, as quarterback Eric Kump was off to an excellent start to 2011 until he tore knee ligaments against Williams Field and was lost for the season. The Knights’ offense was quickly scrapped and reconstructed, but the season became a struggle.
This year, the Knights have a two-headed rushing attack in quarterback Mythias Young (who was a receiver but had to be moved to QB after the team’s expected starter moved to Tucson in mid-August) and Thomas Bush. The duo has run for a combined 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Young has also completed 53 percent of his passes for 325 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Zubey praised Young’s progression as a quarterback, notably in Young himself reading and deciding where to go with the ball in the Knights “veer” offense. Neither team is interested in chucking the ball around 20 or 25 times per game, passing game could play a factor for/against both teams.
Williams Field will try stop the rushing duo and force the Knights to throw while playing from behind (as has happened nearly every minute of this short rivalry to date). Higley knows WF running back Sean Schweichler (569 yards rushing, 11.6 yards per carry, 10 TDs) is the engine that makes the Black Hawks churn.
Jeddidah Fagg made strides under center last week for the Black Hawks with six completions (three of which were TDs) in seven attempts against Tucson Amphitheater. Black Hawks coach Steve Campbell would like to see his completion rate hover around 60 percent by regular season’s end (it’s currently at 47.5 percent) and last week's return of Jordan Johnson from injury will help that cause.
Higley’s best hope, is to run and not let Williams Field posses the ball, because a shootout won’t play out well for the Knights. Conversely, the Black Hawks have seen improvement in reducing its turnovers and mental mistakes (namely pre-snap penalties), which lends itself to keeping the ball longer.
“There’s been improvement in areas we’ve emphasized,” Campbell said. “Now it’s about getting assignments and taking care of the football and not hurting ourselves (with mental mistakes) by doing things that go beyond physical penalties.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.