No. 2 Desert Ridge at No. 9 Red Mountain
Red Mountain is starting to figure itself out at the right time, with consecutive wins (vs. Desert Mountain and Mesa), a relentless schedule and the return of QB Caleb Murray-Thomas have combined to help vault the Lions into the playoff picture. The Mesa city schools’ tour continues this week against the best of them in Desert Ridge, which is about as hot a team as any in Division I not named Mountain Pointe. The Jaguars will finally see a shot upward in competition, which they need. Whether Red Mountain can contain Player of the Year candidate Taren Morrison (1,300 yards rushing, 19 TD) and move the ball on a stingy Jaguars’ defense are the two big questions. They can, but whether it lasts for four full quarters is key. It’s hard to keep Desert Ridge’s running game down forever, and even though the Jaguars haven’t seen a lot of tough teams, the Jaguars aren’t afraid of any competition (which they’ll get the final three weeks). Red Mountain will keep this one close, and even in a loss, the Lions will still be in position for a playoff spot.
Prediction: Desert Ridge 28, Red Mountain 21
-- Mark Heller
No. 3 Queen Creek at No. 4 Williams Field
Queen Creek dominated this matchup last year to really get on the radar as a possible state title contender. It came to fruition, as the Bulldogs won the Division III title. Both teams are similarly in the hunt in 2013, and even though each lost to Saguaro within the past few weeks, the victor in this matchup stakes claim as the third best team in the division behind the Sabercats and Goodyear Desert Edge. Williams Field seems to have better offensive balance, especially since the return of wide receiver Cole Forsgren, who has gone over 100 yards receiving with at least one touchdown in all three games he's played this season. Queen Creek star running backs Weston Barlow and Matt Guida are both banged up, and their availability is huge. If Guida can play, he may be enough to turn the tide, but if not the Black Hawks may be slightly more talented.
Prediction: Williams Field 21, Queen Creek 20
-- Kyle Odegard
Mountain View at Mesa
Here’s the other big Mesa schools’ matchup. Mountain View is reeling a bit after last week’s rough second half in a loss to Desert Mountain, but injuries have been the Toros’ bigger cause for concern. More kids were lost against Desert Mountain, and while a week of practice will help some kids who haven’t seen many (or any) reps heading into this game, Mesa’s defense is difficult to simulate. We know what the Jackrabbits are going to do: run the ball. This is a vastly different matchup than Desert Mountain presented for the Toros (especially defensively) which probably plays into Mountain View’s favor given its injuries. Mesa is going to come out firing as it tries to hang on for its playoff lives, but the Toros will do just enough to get by this week, which is big because Red Mountain and Desert Ridge are coming.
Prediction: Mountain View 20, Mesa 10
-- Mark Heller
Mesquite at Poston Butte
Mesquite is rolling in good times lately. Poston Butte flat-out can’t buy a break. The Wildcats (6-1) just won a shootout over Glendale Cactus for their fifth consecutive win, with an 11-point loss to Williams Field in Week 2 the only blemish. The Wildcats’ defense has been a brick wall for most of the season, with Paul Perry running the ball to help Payton Haslam direct the offense. That defense has to wrangle Brandon Hatfield and Poston Butte’s ground attack, in which he’s put up 1,055 yards and 15 TD, plus 314 yards receiving and 4 TD. He’s not a one-man show, but the Broncos (3-4) are in trouble if Hatfield isn’t able to get going or pop a “home run” carry. Trouble is, that hasn’t happened against Mesquite this season. Don’t let Poston Butte’s record fool you, the Broncos are better than the current three-game losing skid they’re on: Lost by one point to both Notre Dame and Marana Mountain View (which lost to Mesquite on a strange, second-chance field goal at the buzzer), and lost by three points to Marcos de Niza last week (plus a nine-point loss to Queen Creek early in the season). These two teams with their philosophies and offensive styles mirror one another, and that makes for a true tossup.
Prediction: Mesquite 21, Poston Butte 17
-- Mark Heller
Highland at No. 6 Basha
Basha nearly knocked off Hamilton last week but ended up falling, 32-31. The Bears have been competitive against everyone on their schedule but are 4-3 with losses to Centennial, Westview and Hamilton. Quarterback Zach Werlinger has been very impressive this season but faces a tough Highland defense, led by ballhawk Chip White in the secondary. If the Hawks can force some turnovers, they have a shot to pull off the upset. Highland is 5-2, but its two games after this are Chandler and Hamilton, so a win here would be a big help for its playoff chances. The Hawks should hang tough, but Basha's offensive firepower may win out in the end.
Prediction: Basha 27, Highland 20
-- Kyle Odegard