Smiles are plentiful at Mountain View and Highland.
The Toros defeated rival Red Mountain last week by a field goal in overtime while the Hawks knocked off previously undefeated Desert Mountain, 34-32.
Both teams are 5-2, freshly ranked, and in position to make the playoffs.
The two worlds will collide on Friday night in a game which holds substantially more intrigue than it did last year.
The Hawks and Toros have both risen from 4-6 seasons in 2011.
It was Chad DeGrenier’s first season with Mountain View as he attempted to implement his scheme and expectations within the program.
This may be a tad bit sweeter for Pete Wahlheim at Highland, who watched his varsity program struggle for a couple seasons before turning it around.
“I’m just happy for the kids,” he said. “We have a couple seniors that played varsity as sophomores and hadn’t done a lot of winning. We’ve got tremendous athletic programs here across the board. Football has been down for a little bit and this team deserves the success they’re having.”
Mountain View is ranked No. 7 in the latest Division I power rankings and Highland No. 10, so the winner improves its chance of securing a home playoff game while the loser begins to worry about the playoff bubble.
DeGrenier won’t concern himself with that.
“My thing right now is, we control our own destiny,” DeGrenier said. “After this week, maybe you look at that stuff. But you’ve got to take care of business.”
The Toros had trouble moving the ball offensively last week but made enough big plays to squeak out a 10-7 win, the team’s fifth in a row.
Chase Funk played quarterback the whole second half, but John Clark will return to the starting role against Highland.
The Hawks will be without four starters after getting besieged by injuries last week, although Wahlheim is looking at the situation optimistically.
“I’m excited to see how those backup kids step up,” Wahlheim said. “It’s an opportunity for them.”
Both teams are coming off emotional victories and are feeling good about themselves.
Neither has finished above .500 in the past two seasons, but the winner will secure that accomplishment just eight games into the year.
There should be enough on the line to avoid letdown on both sides.
“Obviously after a big win you’re always worried about that,” DeGrenier said. “Right now we’re playing for a playoff berth. Plus, they beat us last year. We’ve been pretty focused every week. I think we’ll be ready.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.