The wild, wacky, unpredictable start to the 2012 football season continued on Friday night, as two more of the preseason favorites in Division I went down. Fifth-ranked Red Mountain knocked off No. 1 Brophy behind a late, fourth-down touchdown pass, while No. 3 Mountain Pointe knocked off second-ranked and defending champion Desert Vista by holding the Thunder scoreless in the second half.
We’re only 30 percent of the way through the regular season, but already Brophy and Hamilton have lost twice and Desert Vista has gone down as well. Meanwhile, a rash of contenders have started 3-0 — albeit some against weak competition — making their case to move up in the rankings.
Upsets have become the norm, and this is parity like we haven’t seen in years. As it stands, eight teams have a legitimate shot at winning the Division I state championship, and here’s why they will (or won’t) do so:
Why the Bears will win it all: Basha is averaging 45.3 points per game during its 3-0 start, and behind the trio of quarterback Zach Werlinger, running back Rajhan Meriwether and wide receiver Nate Phillips, its offense is one of the state’s best. Basha made the semifinals a season ago and has one of the better coaches in the business in Bernie Busken.
Why they won’t: The Bears haven’t yet been tested, so it’s tough to know how good they can be, but it took them awhile to put away Corona del Sol and Mountain Ridge. Championship teams generally dominate from start to finish against inferior teams, so it’s a concern moving forward.
Why the Broncos will win it all: Brophy went toe-to-toe against nationally ranked Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) in its second game and has the best balance of talent in the state. The defense is solid and running back Marche Dennard makes it so defenses can’t only focus on the passing duo of quarterback Tyler Bruggman and wide receiver Devon Allen. Brophy doesn’t have many holes and will compete with anyone.
Why they won’t: Red Mountain showed on Friday night that Brophy is beatable, converting a pair of fourth-downs to win, 33-31, in the final seconds. Even though Bruggman and Allen are both big-time recruits, defenses have done a good job containing them thus far in 2012. If those two aren’t stars, the Broncos are just one of the many teams in the race for the championship. Balance is good, but Brophy needs to excel throwing the ball to return to state title favorite status.
Why the Wolves will win it all: Chandler has as much individual talent on offense as anyone in the state and can beat you in a variety of ways with home-run hitters. The defense has given up only seven points total through its first three contests — all wins — and if it stays rigid, the Wolves will be right in the mix.
Why they won’t: Chandler has been down this road before, flex ing its muscle against easy opponents but falling short in big games. Friday night’s win over Mesquite was less-than-impressive, and there are worries that Chandler is once again more sizzle than substance. The schedule ramps up greatly in the next three weeks, and by the end of it we’ll know much more about the Wolves.
Desert Ridge (3-0)
Why the Jaguars will win it all: It’s a new crew at the controls, but the offense keeps rolling. Sophomore quarterback Tarek Morrison has thrown for 302 yards and rushed for 502 more, while J.J. Husar, Taren Morrison and Jake Mapes are the new running backs surrounding him. These players are conjuring images of the Jordan Becerra, Joey Counts, Parker Rasmussen teams of the past two years, and a tough defense makes this a well-rounded group.
Why they won’t: Desert Ridge hasn’t missed a beat, but it hasn’t faced any real competition yet, either. Hamilton, Red Mountain and Basha are still ahead on the schedule, and we’ll know much more about the Jaguars after those games. Desert Ridge has proven its an elite program, but the lack of experience could be trouble.
Desert Vista (2-1)
Why the Thunder will win it all: The defending champions have the type of talent and playmakers on both sides of the ball that draws envy from around the state. The Thunder can compete with anyone because of players like Matt Young, Jarek Hilgers, Kaleb Germinaro and Nick Farina. This is as complete a team as you will find.
Why they won’t: Fumbles and mistakes led to a scoreless second half against Mountain Pointe on Friday, and a bad snap ended up in a safety which gave the Pride an eventual two-point win. The Thunder dominated Hamilton in last year’s title game, but if they get into a close playoff game this year, execution will be key. Desert Vista needs to win these close games when its talent doesn’t overwhelm the opponent.
Why the Huskies will win it all: Hamilton is either 1 or 1A alongside Mountain Pointe for the title of the state’s best defense. If the offense can score points and not turn the ball over, Cole Luke, Qualen Cunningham, Santana Sterling and Co. will make sure Hamilton has a chance to win every game the rest of the way.
Why they won’t: Hamilton’s offense hasn’t shown the consistent ability to score and avoid turnovers. The addition of Cole Luke on offense Friday night was a boost, but the Huskies still need to prove they have enough weapons on offense to compete with the other top programs.
Mountain Pointe (3-0)
Why the Pride will win it all: The team has the best resumé thus far this season, defeating both Hamilton and Desert Vista on the young season. The team’s defense is top-notch and the offense has one of the best players in the state in Jalen Brown.
Why they won’t: Both victories were by the narrowest of margins, and the offense can have trouble at times. The lack of explosiveness offensively is a concern moving forward, as Mountain Pointe can’t really afford to get too far behind high-quality opponents.
Red Mountain (3-0)
Why the Mountain Lions will win it all: Red Mountain just knocked off No. 1 Brophy, so it’s certainly proven itself. Quarterback Mason Thorman and wide receivers Drake Pierre and Aeron Carr are a dangerous trio and have proven they can throw the ball on anyone, no matter the strength of the defense or the coverage. The secondary was fantastic against Brophy quarterback Tyler Bruggman and coach Ron Wisniewski will put his players in position to succeed.
Why they won’t: The Mountain Lions still haven’t shown they can run the ball consistently and needed an advantageous turnover and two fourth-down conversions to beat Brophy. Whether it was by design or unintentional, Red Mountain allowed Brophy to run the ball easily. The passing game is elite, but can that cover up other areas of concern?
Red Mountain: The Mountain Lions proved their worth by not only hanging with No. 1 Brophy, but putting together a game-winning drive that culminated in a 6-yard touchdown catch by Drake Pierre with 21 seconds remaining. Red Mountain has arguably the best passing game in the state and is looking like a legitimate contender to win the Division I crown after Friday night’s performance.
Queen Creek: The Bulldogs started slowly but eventually showed their superiority over a solid Perry team which plays in a division up. Behind quarterback Carson Jones and wide receiver Gabe Vazquez, Queen Creek has the type of passing game which will make teams pay if they load up against Matt Guida, Marcus Still and the running game. The Bulldogs are balanced and have a good defense. This could be the best year yet under coach Joe Germaine.
Tempe Prep: Most assumed Seton Catholic would roll to another undefeated regular season, but the Knights made sure it didn’t happen. Tempe Prep jumped out to a 15-point lead and held on for the 24-21 win. The Knights defeated a Division IV team for the first time in school history and showed they should be a force to be reckoned with in Division V moving forward.
Tempe and Saguaro: Four Tempe players went down with injuries in Friday’s 31-0 loss, which sent tempers flaring on the Buffaloes sideline. Tempe believes the Sabercats players were intentionally trying to hurt the Buffaloes. Saguaro coach Jason Mohns denied any malicious intent. Halftime was called 1:33 early because of the situation, and Tempe chose to board its buses and leave instead of play the second half.
Brophy passing game: Quarterback Tyler Brugmman was a first-team All-Tribune selection a year ago after a sensational junior season for Brophy. With him and star wide receiver Devon Allen back, the Broncos were supposed to have the state’s best aerial attack. Instead, they didn’t even have the best passing game on the field in Friday’s loss to Red Mountain. Bruggman and Allen have the ability, but need to turn it up a few notches moving forward if Brophy has thoughts of capturing the Division I state championship.