No. 2 Mountain Pointe at No. 4 Chandler
Most followers are drooling over the Hamilton vs. Mountain Pointe matchup next week, but this is easily the marquee game of the week, so nobody is putting any carts before the horses here. Speaking of horses, both sides have them aplenty. Chandler showed its vast potential against a good Centennial team in Week 1, then hammered slightly-lesser competition until last week. The Wolves led a top-5 team in the country in St. John Bosco (Calif.) 28-17 at halftime, but Bosco put up 35 points in the second half to pull away. Still, Chandler made little bones about its ability to play with anyone, and that includes Mountain Pointe. The Pride perked up everyone’s ears in beating (Las Vegas) Bishop Gorman in the Barry Sollenberger Classic, but the Pride haven’t been tested to any significant degree since then. Both sides know that will obviously change here, and there’s no reason to think this year’s meeting couldn't be even better-played and just as wild an ending as the 2012 meeting. Which team either scores last, or can stop the other one more time?
Prediction: Mountain Pointe 34, Chandler 31
No. 6 Basha at No. 7 Pinnacle
The Pioneers came close to pulling off the upset of the year against top-ranked Hamilton last Thursday. Pinnacle proved it can hang with the Division I big boys, but now it must avoid a hangover situation and rebound against a tough Basha team. The Pioneers have impressive balance this year and should be able to put up points behind running back Josh Hoekstra, quarterback Brian Lewerke and wide receiver Daniel Galindo. Basha quarterback Zach Werlinger has been very good early on (854 yards passing, 10 TD, INT), but the running game is worrisome. Tailback Rajhan Meriwether is averaging only 3.47 yards per carry, and an over-reliance on the pass increases the risk of turnovers. Basha has been an elite Division I program for several seasons, but has a couple weaknesses which need to be shored up. Pinnacle has been impressive thus far but has not been the same type of year-in, year-out contender as the Bears. This one is very hard to handicap and could certainly go either way.
Prediction: Pinnacle 35, Basha 34
-- Kyle Odegard
No. 4 Chaparral (Div. II) at No. 8 (Div. I) Desert Mountain
Like Mountain Pointe-Chandler in the SE Valley, this is the monster matchup in the NE Valley. The rivalry along Shea Blvd. resumes, and after last year’s harrowing finish (Chaparral being stopped by Desert Mountain at the 1-yard line to prevent the game-tying touchdown), the ESPNU telecast and numerous other subplots (including Gary McKay transferring from Chaparral to Desert Mountain over the summer), which team can block out the distractions? Kyle Allen and Mark Andrews were relatively held in check by Chaparral’s defense last year, and though the Firebirds have shown to be vulnerable (witness the 56 points allowed in a loss to Marcos de Niza), Chaparral feels its righted the wrongs of two weeks ago. Desert Mountain’s ability to run the ball to help loosen up Chaparral’s defense and stop the Firebirds’ offense will be key here. If the Firebirds defense plays well and avoids being drawn into the emotional overreactions and outside distractions, they can sneak back down Shea Blvd. with a big win.
Prediction: Chaparral 24, Desert Mountain 21
-- Mark Heller
Thunderbird at No. 7 Tempe
The Buffaloes have been very impressive in the two games since running back Kam’ron Johnson returned from suspension. Tempe scored 51 points in a win over Flagstaff Coconino and 69 in a victory over McClintock to move to 3-0 on the year. Quarterback Emanuel Gant leads the East Valley with 1,022 passing yards through three games and has 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Johnson has 249 rushing yards in only two games while wide receiver Massiah Smith already has 407 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Thunderbird won a state championship three years ago but is not the same team without star running back Kani Benoit, who graduated after last season and went to Oregon. The Chiefs will have a hard time slowing down the high-powered Buffaloes offense in this one.
Prediction: Tempe 41, Thunderbird 17
-- Kyle Odegard
Perry at No. 9 Mountain View
Mountain View is getting better bit by bit, and the second-half performance (especially offensively) against Highland in last week’s win was further proof: 20 points in the span of 10 minutes. Still, there has been an unevenness to the Toros’ play at times, one half to another, even in their undefeated start to the season. After a narrow loss at Tucson Sunnyside in Week 1, the Pumas have bounced back a bit with consecutive wins, but Gila Ridge and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor aren’t Mountain View. This will be a nice challenge for the Pumas, especially offensively against the Toros’ defense to see where Perry needs to go from here in terms of scoring. Austin Nightingale has to come up big passing and running for Perry against Mountain View’s defense, and he’s done a nice job of not turning the ball over thus far. The latter is incredibly paramount here. The other big problem for Perry will be handling Clark Brown and co. and that’s where Mountain View holds a distinct advantage, assuming the Toros don’t commit three first-half turnovers here as they did against Highland.
Prediction: Mountain View 34, Perry 14
-- Mark Heller
Cactus Shadows at Higley
It’s been a wild first three weeks for Higley. The Knights are 3-0 but have struggled to beat Desert View and Phoenix Christian. Last week, the district said the football team would be forfeiting its first two games for playing running back Ricky Marshall, who was ineligible. Marshall is not expected to play in this game, and the bigger worry might be on the other side of the ball. The Knights gave up 435 rushing yards to Phoenix Christian’s Scottie Jordan last week, so expect Cactus Shadows running back Joe Kuhlmann (187.7 yards per game this season) to have a big game. On the flip side, the Higley offense has been impressive, and while the Falcons are allowing under 14 points per game, the competition has not been super heavy. Cactus Shadows opened some eyes with a win over Glendale Apollo last week and can prove it deserves a top-10 ranking with a win in this one. Higley, though, has a deadly passing attack which the Falcons may have a hard time defending. This one’s a tough call, but I’ll take the Knights.
Prediction: Higley 41, Cactus Shadows 35
-- Kyle Odegard
Poston Butte vs. Notre Dame (at Scottsdale Community College)
This one isn’t too difficult to break down on each side: Can Notre Dame stop Brandon Hatfield? Hatfield has 510 yards rushing and 7 TD in four games, averaging close to nine yards per carry. He was almost literally the saving grace against Tucson Marana in a 32-29 OT win last week for the Broncos. Russell Corriveau also has made plays with the passing game (56 percent completion, 3 TD, 0 INT) and the INT stat is most important with what Mike De La Torre’s team wants to do (run the ball and play defense). Can Poston Butte stop Jordan Schlueter in all facets of the game, as the three-way threat (offense, defense, special teams) is the heart of Notre Dame? The Saints are reeling a bit after being hammered by Desert Mountain (45-3) and Peoria Liberty (51-33) in consecutive weeks, and turnovers haven’t helped a struggling defense at times either. This is a close call because both are good at what they do (running the ball to set up the passing game), but Notre Dame’s time for a win has arrived, albeit in a good one.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Poston Butte 17
-- Mark Heller
Red Mountain at No. 10 Brophy
Red Mountain gets no respite once again as it faces another ranked team after an 0-3 start. The Mountain Lions have one of the toughest schedules in the East Valley this year and badly need a win in this one. The offense looked good early last week against Avondale Westview but couldn’t keep it up in a 21-14 loss. It’ll be a tough task to score points against a formidable Broncos defense. Brophy has also faced very tough opponents in the earlygoing and sits at 1-2 on the year following a loss to Peoria Centennial. Quarterback Brian Woodward missed last week’s action with a fractured bone in his non-throwing hand and if he misses this one, it’s a blow to the team’s offense. While many games around the state should be high-scoring affairs, this one looks like it could be a defensive showdown. Brophy is a tad better in that area, so I’ll give the Broncos the slight nod.
Prediction: Brophy 17, Red Mountain 14
-- Kyle Odegard
Mesa at Valley Vista
Coming off a nice win against Westwood last week, especially with its play in the second half, Mesa found itself a little bit. The Jackrabbits struggled offensively against Highland (a 7-3 loss the Jackrabbits might be kicking themselves over later this season for not winning), but the return of Turrell Pietz-Noble to the offensive backfield from injury was a boost Mesa needed to help put up 27 points to go with an aggressive, hard-playing defense. Valley Vista (2-1) has blowout wins against Surprise Willow Canyon and Phoenix North Canyon, sandwiched by a loss to Mountain View. Damian Alarcon (58 percent completion, 6 TD, 3 INT) has done a solid job running the offense, with Terry Juniel and Jeff Harris the team’s big WR threats. The Monsoon isn't a bad team, and can move the ball on Mesa, but the Jackrabbits’ defense isn’t bad either.
Prediction: Mesa 21, Valley Vista 13
-- Mark Heller
Skyline at Gilbert
The Coyotes captured the best win of their season last week by defeating Corona del Sol. They moved to 3-0 on the year, and the team has a legitimate chance at winning its first five games with matchups against Gilbert and Maryvale on the horizon. Skyline, though, only mustered 247 yards of total offense, so it wasn’t a dominant performance by any stretch. Gilbert is 0-3 on the year after a loss to Campo Verde but the schedule has done the Tigers no favors. Even though one of these teams is winless and the other undefeated, the outcome should be close. Confidence may come into play, as the Coyotes have to be feeling good about themselves while the Tigers are down on their luck. One big turnover or long touchdown either way could also be the difference.
Prediction: Skyline 17, Gilbert 13
-- Kyle Odegard