State title game: It all comes down to this - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

State title game: It all comes down to this

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Posted: Saturday, November 26, 2011 7:00 am

They have spent countless hours busting chops in the locker room, getting taped in the training room, watching mile posts whiz by on bus rides, broken down film and everything else a football team does during the course of four football seasons together.

The Desert Vista football program, buoyed by 35 seniors, has done it all.

Well, just about everything.

And it comes down to this.

There is the little matter of the final and most important 48 minutes of their time together.

The Thunder will take the field at University of Phoenix Stadium sometime Saturday afternoon in anticipation of the 2 p.m. kickoff for the Division I state championship against Hamilton.

Only one thing is left to do.

"We have spent plenty of hours together," senior two-way lineman J.J. Dielman said. "I wouldn't give it up for the world, and I love spending every minute with these guys.

"There would be only one great way to end it."

The Thunder (12-1) face a difficult task against the nationally-ranked Huskies, who have won all 13 of their games this season to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 53 games.

Desert Vista has added to the streak as it has contributed three of the 53 since Hamilton's loss to Centennial on Sept. 12, 2008. Overall, the Thunder has been outscored 195-61 in five overall defeats against the Huskies, dating back to the first meeting in 2005.

While the Thunder cannot do anything about the past, it can learn from it and the team feels it has since the 35-10 defeat on Oct. 6.

"I think we came into that game overconfident, and our mind wasn't right," junior wide receiver Kaleb Germinaro said. "We were undefeated and looked at the film, and gave them a good game. We didn't do that, obviously."

The players have a better idea of what to expect this time around as far as what it takes to match the level of play that Hamilton brings.

It is something that no other team, at least in the big-school division, has been able to attain. The Huskies are relentless with its depth and play. The team has a coaching staff that is probably the biggest and the best in the state.

It's nothing like playing North Canyon, Pinnacle and Basha, the teams Desert Vista handled on the way to its third state title game in 16 years of history.

It is just different.

"It was a pretty devastating loss," Dielman said. "It gave the younger guys an idea of what big-boy football is all about. At the time, I think it was necessary and it will have us ready."

In the first meeting, Hamilton did most of its damage through the air as Blake Kemp threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns, while the Huskies added another score on a halfback pass from Frankie Felix to Israel Simpson.

The game was decided pretty quickly in the third quarter when Kemp hit Just'n Thymes for a 70-yard touchdown on Hamilton's first possession for a 21-3 lead.

The Thunder was not its usual persistent self on offense against the Huskies as it rushed for 123 yards, the second-to-lowest amount on the season, and nearly 100 yards below the season average of 219.6.

Add in the fact that senior quarterback Hunter Rodriguez had his worst game of the year - three of his five interceptions on the season came via the Huskies - and the Thunder offense was shutout against Hamilton's No. 1 defense, scoring late against the Huskies' second unit.

"They took advantage of every mistake we had," senior running back Dominic Kereluk said. "We had a bad week of practice leading up to it and then we played that way. We are ready to take on whatever they have for us this time."

Desert Vista is clearly the underdog and the players have no problem with that as they understand who they are playing.

It is part of the deal of facing Hamilton.

Teams have to embrace that role, play nearly flawless, and have some luck on its side. Then hope Hamilton, which has won six of the last eight big-school state titles, is not at its best on game day.

The Thunder players said they were going to take some time last weekend to take in what they accomplished last week in beating Basha in the semifinals and not worry about Hamilton just yet.

Then, on Saturday, the college football landscape changed dramatically as highly-ranked favorites fell by the wayside all day and night.

"It was a good weekend of college football," Germinaro said. "There were a lot of upsets. It gave some incentive that top dogs can be beat."

Only one thing left to do.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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