As the Pop Warner football season winds down, a Gilbert team will represent the Eastern Conference in the state championship game on Saturday morning at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.
The juggernaut force that is the Gilbert Monsoon (11-0) hopes to complete its perfect season in the Junior Pee-Wee Division when they meet the Western Conference champion Steelers (11-0) in what promises to be a defensive battle to the end.
After rolling through the eight-game regular season and two early-round playoff games, the Monsoon beat the Gilbert Bearcats 6-0 last weekend in a defensive showdown to win the 8- to 11-year-old East division title.
Monsoon head coach Mike Thompson said he’s proud not only of his team’s performance, but also of the exemplary sportsmanship displayed by his side.
“We think it’s important that our team respect the game of football and the other team, and that our kids conduct themselves with the proper decorum on the field,” he said.
The respect Thompson and his team have for the opposition should not be mistaken for weakness, however, as the Monsoon’s ferocious defense has been shredding offenses on an unprecedented level this year. The Monsoon defense has not given up a single point all season, which has allowed the offense to pound the ball up the middle and control game tempo from start to finish.
Thompson is quick to give credit to the all-volunteer cast of coaches, including offensive line coach Gary Smith and defensive coordinator John Lyons, the architect of the Monsoon’s shutdown defense.
“It’s a pressure thing,” Thompson says of his team’s defensive success.
Lyons employs an aggressive blitzing defensive scheme that hurries the opposing quarterback into mistakes. It is a risky approach that has yielded great results for the Monsoon this season.
Thompson said that while opponent FW (Far West) Steelers are physically much bigger than his squad, that hasn’t been a problem for the Monsoon so far this year.
Their approach to the game relies on “good tackling and smart football,” said Thompson, not size. The Monsoon will be focused on stopping the bruising up-the-middle running style of the Steelers, who come out of the Western Conference as the only other undefeated team in the state.
Thompson has coached Pop Warner football for nine years, but this is the first time one of his teams has advanced to the championship game.
Gilbert Monsoon vs. Far West Steelers
What: Pop Warner State Championship, Junior Pee-Wee Division
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Chaparral High School, 6935 E. Gold Dust Ave., Scottsdale