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As we bid farewell to the 2013 football season; a crazy, cooky, memorable (for all the right and wrong reasons), let’s take a look at a few impact players. OK, more than a few, but despite being able to rattle off another handful’s worth, there’s no choice but to whittle an entire East Valley football scene down to the 10 guys who did it all better than most (or all) for the season. This wasn’t a year like D.J. Foster in 2011, or even Matt Guida in 2012, but it was a season in which so many shined. Here’s our select few Tribune Player of the Year candidates (in alphabetical order) [compiled by Mark Heller/Tribune]
TUCSON — In the (shortened) week leading up to the Division III state finals, Queen Creek's players and coaches spoke at length about needing to avoid getting in a shootout with Saguaro if the Bulldogs wanted to repeat as champions.
It all sounds exhausting: A championship program with completely new starting lineups, followed by a coaching change, followed by injuries to its top talent.
Williams Field's Jaxxon Fagg blocks Queen Creek's Matt Guida during their matchup with Queen Creek, Monday, November 25, 2013 at Campo Verde. [Jerry Burch/ Special to Tribune]
The Bulldogs knew they had a pretty good player waiting in the wings behind senior Matt Guida, the 2012 Tribune Player of the Year, but the secret didn’t last long. When Guida suffered a hamstring injury early in the season — one which sidelined him for most of the regular season — Barlow ran with the opportunity. A lot. He finished second in Arizona with 2,335 yards rushing (according to MaxPreps.com) and had 24 touchdowns (25 total TDs), a comfy 8.75 yards per carry. That, by the way, includes one game he didn’t play because of a concussion and a couple other games in which his carries were limited by the scoreboard. Let’s throw in his 38 yards per punt and a 24-yard kick return average for good measure.
Williams Field's Cliff Weybrecht grabs Queen Creek's Matt Guida as Darius Williams assists during semifinal action against Queen Creek, Monday, November 25, 2013 at Campo Verde. [Jerry Burch/ Special to Tribune]
After all the grinding on the line and more than 700 yards of offense, it all came down to a fourth-and-5.
There is a saying that, no matter how it is accomplished, a win is a win.
Queen Creek's Matt Guida keeps Williams Field wide receiver Kenny Owens from catching the ball during their game Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 in Gilbert. [Brant Clinard/ Special to Tribune]
No. 5 Peoria at No. 4 Queen Creek (Div. III): Quietly, perhaps, Peoria is one of the few undefeated teams left in Arizona (Mountain Pointe, Salpointe Catholic, Desert Edge and Bagdad), so the Panthers’ No. 5 seed comes from having the lowest strength of schedule rating (regular season) in Div. III. The Panthers are extremely young in their starting lineup, but hammered Peoria Bradshaw Mountain, 50-23, last week. This, however, is a bit different. The Panthers haven’t seen a running game or defense on part withe Queen Creek this season. While Matt Guida isn’t seeing the field much on offense because of him hamstring, Weston Barlow (pictured) is back running the ball effectively for the Bulldogs, and Bryce Dobbs was efficient throwing. The trenches is where this game will be won, and where Queen Creek holds the advantage. It’d take a lot of turnovers for Peoria to shut down the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Queen Creek 34, Peoria 20
The ingredients for a long-term, competitive rivalry in the Southeast Valley between Queen Creek and Williams Field are all on the table.
Football is — among so many things — a game of attrition, which explains why many schools struggle either suddenly or gradually. That’s happening everywhere around East Valley football programs these days, seemingly with more frequency than ever (at least it feels that way).
When J.T. Nettleton transferred to Saguaro from out of state this spring, he was warned about playing in the shadow of fellow wide receiver Christian Kirk.
Queen Creek dominated this matchup last year to really get on the radar as a possible state title contender. It came to fruition, as the Bulldogs won the Division III title. Both teams are similarly in the hunt in 2013, and even though each lost to Saguaro within the past few weeks, the victor in this matchup stakes claim as the third best team in the division behind the Sabercats and Goodyear Desert Edge. Williams Field seems to have better offensive balance, especially since the return of wide receiver Cole Forsgren, who has gone over 100 yards receiving with at least one touchdown in all three games he's played this season. Queen Creek star running backs Weston Barlow and Matt Guida are both banged up, and their availability is huge. If Guida can play, he may be enough to turn the tide, but if not the Black Hawks may be slightly more talented.
Prediction: Williams Field 21, Queen Creek 20
-- Kyle Odegard
No. 4 Queen Creek vs. No. 2 Saguaro (1 p.m. Friday at University of Arizona stadium): What’s changed this around? More for Queen Creek than Saguaro, but both aren’t exactly the same as the early October meeting (a 35-28 victory for Saguaro). On Tuesday, both teams watched film of the first meeting, and both teams said the same thing: They’re much better this time. Queen Creek is healthier for sure, and the Bulldogs are going to try and run the ball straight at Saguaro with Weston Barlow and Matt Guida. Guida’s ability to help be a 1-2 punch with Barlow is key because of his size and speed. Saguaro, however, felt it left a lot of plays on the field that night, and the Sabercats’ offensively have been a wrecking ball through these playoffs, capped by the 77 points scored against an athletic, skilled Goodyear Desert Edge team. Luke Rubenzer has been unstoppable and is setting records, and J.T. Nettleton, Christian Kirk and Brett Adams can beat up on anyone as Saguaro tries to move around Queen Creek and attack the secondary. The Bulldogs’ defense will be the best Saguaro has seen this year, and the Bulldogs’ ability to play “keep-away” with the ball will tell this game’s tale, but “Win it for Tug” is a heavily emotional element here, and Saguaro is going to be hard to contain all day.
Prediction: Saguaro 38, Queen Creek 28
On Sunday afternoon, Saguaro football coach Jason Mohns received a call from equipment manager Mike "Tug" Garcia, who said he was in the hospital and would probably miss the first few days of practice this week.
The Queen Creek football team bulldozed nearly everyone in its path on the way to a 14-0 season and the Division III football state title in 2012.
The Hamilton football team was beat up physically heading into Friday night’s showdown against Mountain Pointe, as several key players sat out with injuries.
Queen Creek remains undefeated and handed visiting Higley its first loss of the season by a score of 56-35.
This Hamilton-Mountain Pointe thingy next Friday night is a big game.
Queen Creek football fans are used to seeing their running back run rampant through opposing defenses. However, Friday night against McClintock, it was junior Weston Barlow, not Matt Guida, who was racking up rushing yards. With Guida injured, Barlow took center state in Queen Creek’s 42-18 victory over McClintock.
There were plenty of headaches due to the increase in football freedom games during the offseason.
Queen Creek continued its undefeated season with a 33-12 victory against visiting Show Low.
5. Peoria 6-0...
4. Williams Field 6-0...
3. Queen Creek 5-1...
2. Saguaro 5-1...
1. Desert Edge 6-0...
Peoria and Williams Field both remain in their spots with easy wins. The Black Hawks will have their toughest test of the year next week in a matchup against Saguaro. The Sabercats move up one spot with a 35-28 win over Queen Creek. The Bulldogs drop one spot, but were without star running back Matt Guida for the contest and lost standout backup Weston Barlow to a possible concussion in the second quarter. Desert Edge remains at the top.
It’s a lot of fun to watch the East Valley’s best go toe-to-toe throughout the season, and there will be no shortage of those heavyweight showdowns in upcoming weeks.