Higley High quarterback Spencer Brasch left the field defeated in both score and spirit last Nov. 17 after a 37-31 overtime loss to Saguaro in the 4A football state semifinals.
Brasch, then a junior, led the Knights to an 11-2 record with 33 touchdown passes and more than 1,900 passing yards. He threw for just 58 yards and suffered four interceptions in that season-ending game.
This year, with Higley now up to 5A, he and the passing offense are reloaded and back for vengeance.
Through the first three games, Brasch, who has committed to play next year at California, led not only Arizona but the entire nation with 17 touchdown passes, catapulting the Knights to an undefeated record before it was thrashed 35-7 by Moorpark (Calif.) High on the coast on Sept. 7.
“Last year, I felt like the team looked up to me even though I was just a junior,” Brasch said. “And I felt like I let them down at the end of the season. So as a senior, and being committed to Cal, I feel like the guys are really looking to me to lead them and I have to fulfill that duty by playing really well.”
Having lost star running back Draycen Hall, who rushed for nearly 1,900 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns, to graduation, coach Eddy Zubey might have figured there would be a regression in an offense that scored more points than any in Arizona the past two seasons.
Zubey did not expect his offense to be this pass-heavy when the season began but he is happy with the early results.
“This much throwing wasn’t necessarily a goal of ours but defenses have stacked against the run against us, which has meant we can pass more, and we have the skill guys to do that well,” he said.
Brasch has a strong arm and a plethora of talented players around him. That allows him to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
“It’s helpful to have a lot of these guys that I can just give a five-yard quick-out to, and they’ll turn it into a touchdown,” he said.
On the receiving end of most of Brasch’s passes are senior receivers Coleman Owen and Jaxen Gibbons, who have combined for nearly 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns already. They are among several contributors who are in their fourth consecutive year playing together. Because of that, the unit has developed great chemistry.
“A lot of the guys -- from us, to the running backs, to the linemen, and Spencer -- have all been here since freshman year, so it’s cool to finally have it be our team as seniors,” Owen said. “I’ve been playing with Spencer for a long time now, so we’ve gotten comfortable because I’ve run so many routes for him throwing the ball that it is a great connection.”
Owen said seeing his counterpart Gibbons streaking down the sideline has made him a better player. Owen watches Gibbons in practice and emulates some of his moves.
Gibbons said he watches and learns from Owen, too, and said the pair make the game easier when defenses must choose which to double cover.
“It’s just fun to run routes and see him make a move downfield,” Gibbons said of Owen.” And, if the defense starts stacking over to one of us, the other can get open and make plays with more space.”
Higley rolled through much of the 4A conference the past two seasons, the exceptions being late-round playoff losses to Saguaro and Catalina Foothills.
Now, looking forward to competition against a stacked 5A San Tan section, the Knights face the new challenge each week of more-consistent athleticism and coaching on opposing sidelines.
Owen said the new opponents have made Higley’s passing offense significantly better, and also made football more fun.
“I like playing the bigger schools now because we were beating a bunch of (4A) teams by a lot and we weren’t playing the second half. Now I’m playing the whole game and it’s almost always a good game,” he said.
Zubey knows that his offense must be more balanced. If past success is any indicator, the unit will be just fine.
“We would assume that at some point they’ll leave the box a little bit and allow us to run the ball a little bit more,” he said. “We plan every week to be able to do both, so we’ll take whatever the defense is giving us.”