Patrick Joseph waits for no one, including the coach.
Hamilton football coach Steve Belles hadn't made it to his team's huddle yet, but the senior offensive lineman and players' spokesperson did, so he spoke his piece while teammates lapped up his words after a sloppy-but-satisfying 21-7 Division I semifinal victory over Desert Ridge. The last words yelled from the massive huddle: "Remember how last year felt."
Teammates listen when Joseph talks, and not just because he's 6-foot-3, 280 pounds.
It was, in teammate Frankie Felix's recollection, Joseph who did the talking when the Huskies were 0-2, jet lagged from a trip to Ireland and aware the outside world tossed Hamilton into the laundry heap.
"It was a big motivational talk," Felix said. ""We had to try and forget (August). People and the media had talked and written us off. We had a big chip on our shoulder."
"We spent 10 or 15 minutes looking at each other saying, 'This isn't Hamilton football,'" senior Cole Luke said.
It wasn't at times either on Friday night. The reality is Desert Ridge's defense, namely its front four and safety Nathaniel Rodriguez, had a huge hand in that. The Huskies committed two turnovers, and were otherwise in quicksand on offense.
It might have been a nightmarish flashback to these dogs' days of August, only this time the defense, special teams and one big play on offense (A.J. Thigpen's 58-yard touchdown run) was enough against depleted but determined Desert Ridge.
The Huskies fumbled on their first possession Friday and gave up a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage. The two teams' defenses stuffed one another the rest of the night.
If Desert Ridge could have kicked a field goal instead of taking a sack which ran out the first half clock, the Jaguars likely had a 10-7 lead at intermission. If not for another fumble Hamilton returned for a touchdown and Luke's 50-yard punt return, the Huskies might have stayed home next weekend.
"One thing about us is we've faced adversity and know how to react," Luke said.
What the Huskies are, is a team reliant on a terrific defense, special teams and running the ball. What those three facets have led to the past three months, is a seventh trip to the state championship game in the past decade and a rematch with Mountain Pointe, who played its part in Hamilton's hairy start to the season by beating the Huskies in Week 1.
If that 17-14 Mountain Pointe victory in late August seems like an eternity ago, it is, especially for the Huskies. Hamilton is on an 11-game winning streak, with wins against Chandler, Basha, two wins against Desert Vista and now Desert Ridge along the way back to, as the postgame victory dance noted, "the ship," a loose reference to University of Phoenix Stadium's design.
Again, an Ahwatukee school awaits. This time it's Mountain Pointe, a school raw on championship game experience (the Pride have none), went through lean years, built itself back up and relies on a punishing running game and defense.
Sounds like Desert Vista of 2011? It did to Felix, who looked ahead to next Saturday afternoon with only two words:
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.