Jekyll and Hyde bounced from one sideline to the other on Friday night at Hamilton.
Even though the Huskies and Basha are at distinctly different places right now, both showed potential as well as pitfalls in a riveting 48 minutes of football, a game which Hamilton eventually won, 31-24.
Let’s start with the Bears.
Basha proved how dangerous it can be offensively, scoring more points (24) on Hamilton than anyone has this year in Arizona. In fact, the Bears were only one point away from Chandler’s Arizona-best 18 points with the second half still left to play.
Basha may end up a double-digit seed in the Division I postseason, but no one wants to see it in the first round.
This is similar to last year, when Basha struggled near the end of the regular season but rebounded to stun Brophy in the playoffs and make the state semifinals.
Basha’s offense has moved the ball against everyone it’s played, and while the team has three losses, going toe-to-toe with Hamilton means it can play with anybody.
On the other hand, crucial turnovers again hurt the Bears. Basha had two more fumbles and two more interceptions in this one, a bugaboo which has hindered it all year. The big blow came late as the team had a chance to drive for the go-ahead score in a game tied at 24. Instead, quarterback Zach Werlinger was picked off by Luke Parrish and the Huskies pulled out the late victory.
At this point it’s fair to wonder: Is this as close Basha can get to playing a complete game? The Bears hung with Hamilton all night despite the turnovers, and those miscues don’t seem to be going away. Maybe it’s just something they’ll need to overcome if another postseason run is in the cards.
Hamilton, meanwhile, followed a familiar script, getting key plays from its defense and special teams to win the game.
Cole Luke played an integral role, returning a punt 50 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Huskies the lead.
The offense answered the bell by connecting on a late fourth down pass to set up the game-winning score, but it still only mustered 24 points. In comparison, Basha gave up 41 to Chandler and 48 to Desert Ridge previously.
It’s pretty clear at this point that Hamilton has come back to the pack. It’s not boatracing top teams, and, depending on matchups, there’s a chance it doesn’t even make the title game for the first time since 2007.
That being said, Hamilton’s defense is still the best around and the Huskies probably won’t be expected to lose the rest of the way.
The margin for error is slimmer, but the Huskies are still finding ways to win close games.
Hamilton hopes experiences like these steel itself for the postseason, while opponents hope one of these down-to-the-wire finishes eventually result in a playoff upset.
Week 10 starts off in style as rivals Saguaro and Chaparral face off on Thursday at Saguaro H.S. Last year, former Saguaro coach John Sanders rested his starters to avoid injuries heading into the playoffs, but both teams should be full-go in this one.
Chandler hosts Desert Vista in the biggest Division I game on the schedule. Even though both teams are considered among the elite, the loser may have to go on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
Marcos de Niza faces undefeated Cesar Chavez in a key Division II showdown. The Champions are undefeated but have not seen a team close to Marcos de Niza’s caliber.
Williams Field and Queen Creek are both 9-0 and will meet in a key Division III contest. Notre Dame-Horizon and Red Mountain-Highland are also intriguing matchups.
Saguaro ignites: Nobody in the East Valley can get off to fast starts quite like Saguaro. The Sabercats scored three touchdowns and ran up 214 yards of offense in their first four plays and cruised to a win over Arcadia. Quarterback Luke Rubenzer threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 140 yards with another score. Christian Kirk had four catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns and added an 89-yard punt return for a TD.
Underdog scares: Though the end of the night didn’t bring any huge upsets, there were plenty of tense moments. Mesa led Highland in the second half and the game was tied until Noah Miller hit a late 26-yard field goal to lift the Hawks to a 24-21 win. Basha had the ball as time ticked down in a tie game with Hamilton but threw an interception and eventually lost, 31-24. Poston Butte led the entire game against Williams Field, but the Black Hawks tied the game with a late touchdown and won in overtime.
Pinnacle’s push: The Pioneers scored a touchdown as time ticked down in the fourth quarter for a 28-21 win over Desert Mountain. Pinnacle may not move up in the power rankings since everyone above it won, but the victory was important because it likely wraps up a first-round home game regardless of next week’s outcome against Brophy.
Desert Mountain: The Wolves finally got their high-powered offense on track in the second half, but Pinnacle scored late for the victory. Desert Mountain had the ball inside the Pinnacle red zone three times in the first half and ended up with zero points. As a result, a team averaging 39.7 points per game coming into this contest finished with only 21. Credit goes to Pinnacle’s defense for doing a great job against Desert Mountain star receiver Mark Andrews, holding him to five catches for 69 yards. Andrews was averaging 130 receiving yards per game heading into the contest.
Tempe turnovers: The Buffaloes moved the ball well against Seton Catholic but had trouble finishing drives because of turnovers. Quarterback Emanuel Gant was 31-of-50 for 349 yards with three touchdowns, but also threw five interceptions. The Buffaloes also fumbled the ball twice. Seton now has a must-win game on Friday against Maricopa to make the Division III playoffs.