If Hamilton aimed to make a statement after a tough loss to rival Chandler last week to close out the regular season, the Huskies wasted little time doing so against Corona del Sol in the Open Division quarterfinals Friday night.
Led by its defense and senior running backs Rodney Clemente and Noah Schmidt, second-ranked Hamilton smothered No. 7 Corona del Sol and defeated the Aztecs 50-0. Hamilton will now face sixth-ranked Salpointe Catholic — who automatically moved on after third-ranked Saguaro was forced to forfeit due to COVID-19 — in the Open Division semifinals Saturday, Dec. 5.
“It takes a lot of pressure of the offense and takes a lot of pressure off a new quarterback when they know the defense is going to continue to go three-and-out like they were tonight,” Hamilton coach Mike Zdebski said. “You weren’t fighting for first downs all the time. It puts a lot of undue stress on a young man.”
With Hamilton junior quarterback Nicco Marchiol sidelined due to a shoulder injury, sophomore Roch Cholowsky stepped in under center against Corona del Sol. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound UCLA baseball commit took on a role as game manager against the Aztecs, as Hamilton established a dominant run-game behind Clemente and Schmidt.
But when Cholowsky was called upon, he delivered. The sophomore completed 11-of-14 passes for 129 yards. His one interception came after his pass was tipped into the hands of Corona del Sol senior athlete Jake Schmitt.
“We just tried to work off our strengths right now and not put as much pressure on him as we need to,” Zdebski said of Cholowsky. “We were kind of laid back with him and kind of let him, yeah, I guess manage the game and he did a great job.
“He did a great job for us and the offensive line did a great job, receivers did a great job out there blocking and made some real good catches.”
With Hamilton’s defense dominating a usually high-powered Corona del Sol offense, Zdebski looked to his offensive line and running backs to carry the way.
Clemente and Schmidt traded scores in the first half to help Hamilton quickly build to a double-digit lead. In the third quarter, Clemente capped off Hamilton’s first drive of the half with an 11-yard touchdown. Schmidt followed suit on the Huskies’ next drive with a 6-yard score of his own.
Clemente then broke free for a 48-yard touchdown run to complete the hat trick. Schmidt scored his third touchdown just before the end of the third quarter and scored his fourth on a 49-yard run.
Together, the two backs combined for 326 rushing yards – Clemente with 176 and Schmidt 150 – and seven touchdowns. As a team, Hamilton had 478 yards of offense compared to Corona del Sol’s 72.
“I don’t think this is something we imagined doing,” Clemente said of the strong performance from him and Schmidt, “but it’s definitely always the goal. The blocking was great and there were holes for us to hit.”
Schmidt said the all-around impressive team performance was sparked by Hamilton’s week of practice leading up to Friday’s matchup. They were determined to bounce back after a disappointing showing against top-ranked Chandler.
They did that and more.
“I think this was a good example of how we came to work this week,” Schmidt said. “Obviously nobody wants to lose by 20 points against a rival. I think this showed how we did this week.”
For the second straight year, Hamilton finds itself in the Open Division semifinals. Last year, the Huskies fell to third-ranked Saguaro in a close matchup. It’s unclear whether Marchiol will be available for the Huskies against Salpointe Catholic.
The winner of next Saturday’s semifinal game will move on to the state title game on Dec. 12 to face the winner of Chandler and No. 5 Liberty, which knocked off fourth-ranked Centennial. The Wolves’ dominated eighth-ranked Desert Edge Friday to move on to the semifinals.
“We are just going to watch film on them,” Zdebski said of Salpointe Catholic, “see what their strengths are, see what their weaknesses are. I saw the one receiver just got an Arizona offer so they’ve got some kids. The quarterback is a dude as well.
“They’re traditionally very, very good and will be fresh with a week off.”