Division I, Section III
Coach: Dana Zupke
Last year's record: 9-3, lost to Desert Vista in Division I quarterfinals
Returning offensive starters: 8, including RB Evan Tompkins, who led the team with 928 yards rushing (more than seven yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He'll have the luxury of running behind three returning lineman who surpass 260 pounds (Carson Purtell, Billy Nichols and Jack Kness).
Returning defensive starters: 5, including cornerbacks Jared Moreland and Cules Rose. Rose started as a freshman last year. They'll join Michael Harlan to form a veteran secondary.
Aug. 24 at Sandra Day O’Connor; Aug. 31 at Cactus Shadows; Sept. 7 vs. Central; Sept. 14 at North Canyon; Sept. 21 vs. Horizon; Sept. 28 at Mountain View; Oct. 5 vs. Mountain Ridge; Oct. 12 vs. Boulder Creek; Oct. 19 vs. Desert Mountain; Oct 26 at Brophy (at Phoenix College)
Sept. 21 vs. Horizon: A new era with a familiar face is underway at Horizon with Doug Schaffer in charge. The Huskies put up some prolific scoring numbers in recent years, but couldn't put all facets together through its tough schedules. This stretch, along with North Canyon the week prior and Mountain View the following week, won't come as easily to Pinnacle as it did in 2011.
Oct. 19 vs. Desert Mountain: A lot of the main cast of characters returns from last year, when Pinnacle lost its first game of the season in Week 8 after it lost a 21-point lead and allowed 35 points to Desert Mountain in the fourth quarter. The Wolves, too, will be a better team.
Oct. 26 at Brophy: On the heels of the Desert Mountain debacle, the Pioneers next game was against a juggernaut, and Brophy handled Pinnacle in the final regular season game. It was a glimpse of playoff-caliber football and significant leap in competition for the Pioneers. Will they be better prepared a second time around?
The beginning was beautiful. The end was exhausting.
Pinnacle was a feel-good story for most of 2011. The Pioneers put up points in piles through the first six weeks of the season and joined mighty Brophy and Hamilton as the only undefeated schools in Division I through eight weeks of the regular season.
But then came misery against Desert Mountain and a blowout loss to Brophy in the regular season finale. A first-round playoff win against Yuma Cibola temporarily restored order, but the season ended to eventual-champion Desert Vista in the quarterfinals.
How will Pinnacle emerge in 2012? A team which searches to replace key elements of its passing game (Though inconsistent at times, QB Jackson Harley was a two-year starter and capable dual threat) and defensive line because of graduations? A passing game and defense that will be required to succeed for further postseason success?
Or will it be a team who mauls younger men up front, with its three returning lineman and nearly 2,000 yards rushing returning to the backfield (Evan Tompkins, Josh Hoekstra and Matt Dietz).
"We believe our offensive line will be better than last year," Pioneers coach Dana Zupke said. "We are more athletic in the skill positions."
That can only help as programs such as Mountain View, Desert Mountain, Anthem Boulder Creek, Glendale Sandra Day O'Connor and others also figure to improve from last year.
Despite being among the smallest Division I schools (based on enrollment), the Pioneers have little interest in playing the part of a patsy.
But there are questions at quarterback, receiver and the defense, even with time to find answers.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.