High expectations can sometimes make or break a team. Through eight games of the 2017 season, the Queen Creek Bulldogs have lived up to those standards by becoming just one of four teams to remain undefeated in 5A with a record of 8-0.
But, it hasn’t been easy.
“We feel like our schedule has been pretty brutal. It’s been a grind,” head coach Travis Schureman said.
The grind started around July 24 and hasn’t stopped since. The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs are one of 10 teams in 5A to play eight games this season and are the only team in the top 10 to do so. And they didn’t start off their campaign against easy opponents. The Bulldogs took on two teams in the top 16 of 6A, including No. 2-ranked Hamilton.
It was a tall task for the Bulldogs, but that game showed everyone they were for real, as they dismantled the Huskies 41-28 and held senior running back Jawhar Jordan to 83 rushing yards, a season-low in which he had 10 or more carries. It was a big win that boosted their confidence and acted as a springboard for the rest of their season. But Schureman was proud of the way his team took the win in stride.
“We were super-proud of our boys that week, but they have done a good job of putting that behind them and getting back to work, and I’ve been proud of them that way,” Schureman said. “Sometimes, you can get caught up in winning a game like that and let it hurt you. But these guys, they haven’t. They have stayed focused on the task at hand.”
That task is a 5A state championship. After falling to regional foe Williams Field in the semifinals last year, they are more motivated than ever. The Bulldogs don’t just have the motivation to accomplish their season long task, they have the talent as well.
With an “old-fashioned” approach, Queen Creek has attacked teams with a strong running game and a defense that has only allowed 116 points all season long, the eighth lowest in 5A.
“We knew going into this season it was going to be really special for us,” said senior linebacker and running back Dante Coleman. “It was kind of the year where we needed to bear our head and just focus on us as a team because we knew our goal as a team was to get to state. So, it feels really good to be here at this point right now.”
Coleman has been one of the key players of a defense front that has been successful throughout the 2017 campaign. Alongside linebacker Jon Matuzak, who has racked up a team-high 77 tackles this season, Coleman has made 67 tackles and tallied 3.5 sacks to anchor the Bulldogs defense.
As a team, the defense has come up in key moments throughout the season, making big stops or forcing turnovers when they needed them most. One of those key moments came Oct. 6 against Campo Verde with the game on the line.
Coyotes quarterback EJ Galvez dropped back, picked out a receiver on the left sideline beyond the first-down marker and let it fly. The pass was broken up by defensive back Armando Orona and the Bulldogs’ eighth victory of the season was sealed. The defense also forced two fumbles throughout the game and had blocked an extra point attempt.
It was a prime example of something the Bulldogs defense has been doing all season.
“They are flying to the football, and when 11 guys get to the football, good things happen,” Schureman said. “It’s something we kind of preached over the summer where we were like, ‘We need to be a defense where 11 guys get to the ball,’ and I just think that they have bought into the system. They have been super-coachable this year, doing the things that we have asked, and that goes a long way within the system.”
Starting quarterback Devin Larsen echoed the statement of his head coach as the momentum that the defense has captured at times has translated into a motivated offense.
“Our last game against Campo, they came up huge for us,” Larsen said. “Only letting up a touchdown to their offense. That really helped us out offensively, because we had kind of been struggling and having them doing what they did really motivated us.”
The junior quarterback has been one of the major keys to the Bulldogs offense, leading them to score at least 20 points in every game. As a sophomore, Larsen burst onto the high school football scene throwing for 2,524 yards and 25 touchdowns. Since then, he has built on that success, throwing for 1,386 yards, 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Standing 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, the junior gunslinger has all the intangibles to succeed at the quarterback position. The arm talent and his physical attributes are just two things that have helped him lead the Bulldogs to an undefeated season so far.
“Devin is a kid who is highly underrated in the state of Arizona,” Schureman said. “I mean there are a lot of great quarterbacks, but Devin is right there with those guys. There are just a lot of things that he does that are not coachable kind of things – they are just football smarts.”
Along with Larsen, the Bulldogs backfield has been highlighted by junior running back Dylan Borja. At the beginning of the season, Borja was splitting carries with Trey Johnson before the senior back went down against Hamilton. Since then, Borja has taken off, running for 1,020 yards and nine touchdowns including a 227-yard performance against Campo Verde.
Queen Creek’s bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. With two weeks left in the season for the Bulldogs, they are set to face regional opponents Vista Grande and Williams Field to finish off the regular season. But, the Bulldogs still plan to take the season week by week, game by game.
“These last few games are going to be tough for us,” Schureman said. “We have not accomplished anything yet, so were looking forward to the opportunity to play and see where things end up.”
– Contact Greg Macafee at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 480-898-5630 or follow @greg_macafee on Twitter.