Quarterfinal playoff games: A second helping - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Quarterfinal playoff games: A second helping

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Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 5:29 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Fri Nov 25, 2011.

Pick an "R" word: Rematch. Revenge. Redux. Re-run.

These types of games were destined to occur this football postseason, especially in Div. I with its close proximity and East Valley-heavy pool of schools. It was bound to lead to second chances.

Those have arrived, with the two biggest games of Thursday night's playoff quarterfinals about pushing the proverbial restart button.

In the case of Chandler, which hasn't beaten Hamilton in these schools' history, two of its last three meetings have been heart-breaking defeats.

The details have been repeatedly re-hashed. Chandler led 21-13 in the fourth quarter but fumbled four times in the final quarter and Hamilton slipped out with a 28-21 win.

The film sessions of that game had to be re-visited, painful though they were.

"We watched it over and over again," Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said.

That same night (Sept. 30), Red Mountain became the last team to beat Desert Ridge, 20-13. The fifth-ranked Lions and No. 4 Jaguars will meet again, both teams on a hot streak following a revitalization from mid-season lulls.

"I don't believe in revenge, but we want to avenge," Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. "That loss taught us a lot about ourselves and we'll see how much we've accomplished since. It's really a semifinals matchup that's in the quarterfinals."

This Saturday, No. 9 Tempe Prep will take on No. 1 Phoenix Northwest Christian for the second time in three weeks after the Knights suffered a 37-0 shutout at the hands of the heavily-favored Div. V Crusaders two weeks ago.

Each of those looking for the ultimate payback (this is the playoffs) figured this was inevitable if a state championship was to be a reality.

Round 2. Ring the bell.

"We wanted to play them," Aguano said. "We knew we'd have to play (Hamilton) to win the state title, so the round doesn't matter. We knew we had to go through them. Our kids wanted a second shot at them. ... "Whoever has the ball last, I think it's going to come down to that again."

Each of these schools claims to be a different team this time around. The Wolves gained some mental toughness in last week's double-overtime win against Avondale Westview in the wind and rain, a game against an opponent that would give Chandler fits in the past with their contrasting style of play to Chandler.

The Huskies offense (especially the offensive line) has grown by leaps since the first meeting, as Huskies coach Steve Belles predicted it would. Blake Kemp has set schools records in passing and the further emergence of Kendyl Taylor as an every-down slot back has helped Hamilton to its 51-game winning streak.

Red Mountain moved Marcus Brantley to running back, found its way with a big, young offensive line and has played as well defensively as any point in recent years. Desert Ridge has Jordan Becerra close to 100 percent after a regular season of shaky health, not to mention Parker Rasmussen and lineman Alex Barrett returning from earlier hobbles.

The Jaguars beat Anthem Boulder Creek for a second consecutive week to earn another shot at Red Mountain. The Jaguars struggled with turnovers and continuity on offense in the first meeting with Red Mountain. They were also without QB Parker Rasmussen (suspension), but this time it's full roster vs. full roster.

"I can tell you we're a different team than we were then," Hathcock said.

Few smaller schools have as much recent experience with second chances as Tempe Prep. To get a second matchup with Northwest Christian, the Knights had to beat Scottsdale Christian last week, 14-13, in those schools' second meeting of the year, the first being a 24-20 loss to the Eagles.

The same thing happened last year when the Knights beat Thatcher in the regular season, but Tempe Prep lost a 16-0 lead in the 2A quarterfinals.

The Knights' 37-0 loss was the second-closest any school has come to unbeaten Northwest Christian this season (Yuma Catholic played to a 13-6 loss in Week 1), but the Knights were shut out for the first time in two years and were stymied by NWC's stout defense and special teams.

"I wouldn't look forward to playing them twice if we beat them," Tempe Prep coach Tommy Brittain said. "I looked forward to playing (Scottsdale Christian). The bottom line is you have to beat them to be a state champion. It's going through NWC and even moreso this year.

"...You have to be willing to be more aggressive the second time in your game plan."

Brittain knows what his team is up against, so, despite the recent success of Tempe Prep (berths in the 2A semifinals and quarterfinals its first two years of 11-man football), the idea of playing a competitive game to further build its program is top priority, a sort of "nothing-to-lose" mentality that Brittain has tried to spread through his team this week.

But that's not necessarily the case this week at Chandler, Hamilton, Desert Ridge or Red Mountain. They're trying to win the same state championship, and they all know that path eventually cuts straight through one another.

"We don't care about that," Aguano said of playing an elite, all-too-familiar opponent again. "We just wanted to see them again. Even if it's in semifinals or finals, our goal is to win a championship and we're going to have to play them sometime, so it doesn't matter when."

 

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