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.
Now its ego is bruised and battered, as well.
Most expected Mountain Pointe to win this game, but there was always that trickle of doubt because of Hamilton’s utter dominance throughout the past decade. The Pride, though, pushed the pedal to the metal from the start and the 37-27 victory wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate. Mountain Pointe junior running back Paul Lucas was the most dynamic player on the field, running for 143 yards and a touchdown and scoring on a 96-yard kickoff return. When the Huskies tried to stuff the run and play single coverage on star wide receiver Jalen Brown, he made them pay with a pair of 37-yard touchdown receptions.
The Pride’s overwhelming team speed on both sides of the ball was evident from the start and there’s no question which team is the favorite in Division I.
“Our kids can’t catch them,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “They’re fast. They’re a physical football team. They’re a good team.”
As for the Huskies, they’re hoping to follow last year’s script.
Hamilton lost to Mountain Pointe in the 2012 season opener but got revenge in an easy title game victory. The Huskies slowly improved throughout the year and were playing their best football in November.
Last night’s game, though, felt different, and it’s going to take some important changes for Hamilton to have a shot at a repeat.
First and foremost, the team must get healthy. Offensive lineman Casey Tucker and running back Kyeler Burke were the highest profile names who missed last night’s game due to injury, and several other key Huskies are battling ailments.
Even at full strength the offense won’t be a juggernaut, but once Mountain Pointe got ahead by 18 points late in the second quarter, the game felt over because of Hamilton’s lack of explosiveness. The Huskies did a pretty good job in the running game, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, but the passing game needs to improve. The Huskies averaged just 4.0 yards per pass play in 33 attempts, and other than Elijah Williams — five catches, 103 yards, TD — did not have anyone who could shake the Mountain Pointe secondary.
The defense, too, must wreak more havoc. A.J. Greathouse had a fantastic one-handed interception which he returned for a touchdown late in the second quarter, but other than that, Mountain Pointe moved the ball well all night. The Huskies only forced the one turnover and compiled one sack.
With the way this team is designed, there’s a ton of pressure on the defense. If Hamilton is simply good on that side of the ball instead of great, beating Mountain Pointe in a rematch seems far-fetched.
Can Hamilton still put it together? Sure, there’s plenty of time.
Mountain Pointe, though, is looking like a powerhouse, and for the first time in years, the Huskies are clearly the underdog for the state title.
In addition to Tucker and Burke, Hamilton was without wideout/kicker Brandon Krcilek (shoulder) against Mountain Pointe, although Dylan Brown filled in nicely at kicker by hitting two field goals, including a 43-yarder. Pride linebacker/running back Wesley Payne did not play against Hamilton and had a brace on his arm as he recovers from a dislocated elbow suffered last week against Chandler. Perry quarterback Austin Nightingale suffered a serious knee injury just before halftime in the team’s Thursday night game against Glendale Mountain Ridge. Campo Verde quarterback Luke Pineda missed the fourth quarter against Highland with concussion-like symptoms. Marcos de Niza quarterback Josh Eckley entered on the third offensive series against Tucson Salpointe Catholic, but didn’t have his usual mobility because of an injured foot and couldn’t stop the Lancers from cruising to the win. Queen Creek running back Matt Guida missed his third straight game due to injury while Basha running back Rajhan Meriwether missed his second.
Friday night featured 1 vs. 2 matchups in Divisions I and II, as the top teams (Mountain Pointe and Salpointe Catholic) both dispatched the No. 2s (Hamilton and Marcos de Niza). Division III will have a similar showdown next week, as No. 2 Queen Creek travels to play No. 3 Saguaro. These teams have combined to win six of the past seven state championships in the division, as the Sabercats have five of those while the Bulldogs are the defending champions. Both are looking like contenders once again this year.
Hamilton must regroup quickly for its annual showdown against Chandler. The Wolves have never won this matchup but seem to be getting the Huskies at an opportune time.
Skyline (5-0) is off to a great start but will get its toughest test of the season against Mountain View. Red Mountain and Desert Mountain are both scuffling and could really use a victory as they face off, while Westwood-Mesquite and Marcos de Niza-Campo Verde are also intriguing contests.
Horizon: The Huskies moved into the top-10 rankings last week and then had an emphatic win on Friday night over Desert Mountain to prove they have staying power. Dalton Sneed had 449 passing yards and five touchdowns while Luke Quinn had 185 rushing yards, 127 yards receiving and four total touchdowns. Horizon improved to 4-1 on the season with its lone loss coming by a field goal to Marcos de Niza. The Huskies are averaging 53.4 points per game on the season.
Mountain Pointe: The Pride was the rare team to enter a game against Hamilton as the favorite and showed why. The offense was well-balanced and the defense featured great speed and depth. Mountain Pointe had a composite ranking of No. 9 in the country heading into the showdown and should move up with another quality win. The Pride is now 6-0 including wins over Hamilton, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman and Chandler, proving itself to be one of the country’s best teams.
Highland: The Hawks eked out a 27-24 victory over Campo Verde on a late field goal by Noah Miller. Highland outscored the Coyotes 10-0 in the final quarter to improve to 3-2 on the year, which could be a crucial win for its playoff chances. The Hawks need to rack up the wins in the next two weeks because they end the season against Basha, Hamilton and Chandler.
Desert Mountain: Ever since building up a 28-0 lead against Chaparral in last week’s second quarter, it’s been all downhill for the Wolves. The Firebirds scored the final 35 points of that game to rally for the win, and then Horizon put up 63 points in an easy victory over Desert Mountain on Friday night. The Wolves are dealing with a lot of injuries but need to develop more depth to have a shot at a deep playoff run. Star quarterback Kyle Allen was just 6-of-13 for 44 yards in this week’s loss without favorite target Mark Andrews, who missed the game due to injury.
Perry: The Pumas fell to 2-3 on the season with a 45-26 loss to Glendale Mountain Ridge. The defense gave up 322 rushing yards and five touchdowns to Mountain Ridge’s 5-foot-8, 180-pound running back, Zach Miiller. The yardage was a school record for Miiller and illustrated the problems Perry is having trying to slow opposing offenses. Mountain View put up 51 points the week before.