Could those years of being caught in the old 4A Division II scheduling quagmire actually pay off?
That might be a stretch. But for Seton Catholic, which will play in its first semifinal football game since it was a Class 3A school in 2006: Its about to face a substantial upturn in competition with Lakeside Blue Ridge in the Division IV semifinals on Saturday night, and the Sentinels aren't scared.
Now in Division IV, Seton may not have played the most difficult schedule of the season to date, but it's seen Williams Field, Higley, Queen Creek and Notre Dame for the past few years.
And, this being coach Rex Bowser's fourth season at Seton, his seniors began with him as freshman, about the same point that juggernaut schedule began.
"When they learned to play the game of football, that's who they learned to play against," Bowser said. "I think we're ready for it."
In running the table so far this season, the Sentinels (12-0) have rarely been challenged - and they know that's about to change in a big way - but when it did happen, Seton responded.
Despite having never played that far, the kids set a state championship as their goal. After close wins against Fountain Hills and Tempe Prep early, the Sentinels trailed by 14 points to San Tan Foothills (now in the Div. V semifinals) after the first quarter and 14-7 at halftime in Week 4, their only midpoint deficit of the season.
Challenged at halftime, Seton scored 28 of its 42 second-half points in the third quarter and won 49-22.
"They set very, very lofty goals and we were spastic at times," Bowser said of the season's first month. "That was a wake-up call for the kids. What are they going to do about (trailing at halftime)? We came back out on the field and were lights out. We challenged them and said are you going to wish for it or actually do it?"
They've done it since and Bowser likes his team's operandi ever since. He knows Blue Ridge is about as complete a team as there is in Div. IV, which is no surprise given the Yellow Jackets won the 3A championship two years ago and lost to Show Low in an instant-classic championship game last year.
Again this year, Blue Ridge boasts excellent offensive balance between its running game and passing, not to mention a superb defense - 14 points allowed is the most in a game this season - but the Yellow Jackets also haven't faced a passing game like Seton's.
Bowser raved about Blue Ridge's special teams as being the most impressive attribute of Saturday's opponent, but the talent, history and coaching (Paul Moro) of Blue Ridge won't faze Seton, which believe it got the cobwebs out back in September.
"Since that time our kids have done a great job of getting mentally prepared to play," Bowser said. "I'm not sure they did previously. We started first three games spotty, up-and-down, good and bad, inconsistent. The second half of Week 4, it was like the light came on, and from that point we've progressed weekly. I like where we're at."