No time like the present to relive the past.
Sure, there's one week left in the regular season - a huge week for many - but as the push toward the playoffs continues, we'll once again pause and reflect on the 2011 regular season.
It's been a three-month journey with heat, lightning, weird schedules, weirder plays, new and familiar faces in new places, and nine weeks (soon to be 10) of football fury.
Luckily for everyone there's one more month of mayhem to go.
Best offensive player: D.J. Foster, Saguaro
When everyone knows you're getting the ball and nobody can keep up, well, that's a pretty special player. His 1,883 yards rushing, 13.65 yards per carry and 41 total touchdowns stand on its own. But he carved up Division I-Desert Vista for one half and having played Phoenix Thunderbird, Glendale Cactus and Arcadia, has played some of the best teams in Division III. How many teams at any level in the state could legitimately claim they have an answer for Foster?
Honorable mention: Alex Howard (Williams Field), Tyler Bruggman (Brophy), T.J. Thomas (Dobson), Kendyl Taylor (Hamilton)
Best defensive player: Jaxon Hood, Hamilton
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then older brother and former Husky Tevin Hood should be beside himself. His younger brother has been every bit the wrecking ball that Tevin was a couple years ago. Jaxon's 64 total tackles and 9 1/2 sacks as a defensive tackle would be impressive enough, but then consider the double-teams he sees, and the way he single-handedly wrecked Chandler's offensive line during the fourth quarter of the Huskies' furious comeback victory. Plenty of great options here but we'll go with by the theory a great defense starts up front, and he's been the best.
Honorable mention: Reggie Daniels (Hamilton), Marcus Brantley (Red Mountain), Michael Arredondo (Desert Vista)
Best comeback: Paradise Valley 40, Thunderbird 39
Give Desert Mountain lots of credit for its 35-point fourth quarter to erase a 21-point deficit against previously-unbeaten Pinnacle last week, but we went this way at midseason and we're sticking to it. The Trojans trailed 33-7 with 1:33 left in the third quarter, but pulled off a comeback for the ages. Paradise Valley tied the game when quarterback Ryan Finley scored on a quarterback sneak with two seconds remaining, then stopped Thunderbird running back Connor Hustead just short of the goalline on an overtime two-point conversion attempt for the win. Paradise Valley needed a punt block for a safety and a Hail Mary down to the 1-yard line in the last 1:05 of the game just to get it to overtime.
Honorable mention: Desert Mountain def. Pinnacle; Desert Vista def. Saguaro; Red Mountain def. Desert Ridge
Biggest surprise (team): Seton Catholic
Nobody is saying Seton's place in the new division alignment hasn't helped its fortunes, but while the Sentinels don't have the likes of Williams Field, Queen Creek, Higley or Notre Dame in this new schedule, they are still on the bottom of Division IV enrollment figures. Rex Bowser's boys have beaten up Maricopa and Coronado (teams that beat Seton up a year ago) and topped a couple good programs in Fountain Hills and Tempe Prep. Stuck in the middle as a 4A-II school, this is the Sentinels best chance for a deep playoff run since it was a 3A school midway through the previous decade.
Honorable mention: Pinnacle, Poston Butte, Perry
Best coaching move: Red Mountain coach Ron Wisniewski moving Marcus Brantley to RB
New players in key positions coupled with a series of injuries to its receivers had Red Mountain reeling. The Lions started with a good win against Avondale Westview, but then came an 8-7 loss to Mesquite in which the Lions didn't score an offensive touchdown and a 31-13 loss to Brophy. Needing a semblance of offense, wideout/defensive back Marcus Brantley wasn't getting many touches until his prodding at the coaches paid off when he was moved to running back. The Lions haven't lost since, with five blowout wins sandwiched around a 20-13 victory against Desert Ridge. Brantley has 639 yards and four touchdowns since the move in mid-September.
Honorable mention: Corona del Sol coach Tom Joseph going for it 4th-and-5 against Mesquite; Saguaro coach John Sanders starting sophomore Luke Rubenzer at QB; Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock's "Triple-I" offense.
Best coaching job: Joe Germaine, Queen Creek
Hard to top what the former Mountain View QB did last year with the Bulldogs in reaching the 4A-I semifinals in his first year as a head coach, but the Bulldogs are on track to get there again in Division III. Almost every starter from that team graduated, but Q.C. hasn't gone anywhere. The Bulldogs don't have a Chim Nga in the backfield and Adam Brzeczek throwing passes, but they've instead turned this new group towards defense (103 points allowed in nine games). Difficult wins against Perry and Poston Butte have legitimized this bunch with Williams Field coming up this week. Germaine and his veteran staff can win any which way they can think of.
Honorable mention: Tom Joseph (Corona del Sol), Mike De La Torre (Poston Butte), Steve Belles (Hamilton)
Biggest upset: Perry 56, Basha 38
It wasn't just the contrast of size, speed on offense as to why Basha would romp, but it's also how thoroughly the Pumas' offense dissected Basha's defense. QB Josh Uhlorn was a superstar passing (252 yards, 5 TD), running (135 yards, TD) and on defense (five tackles, 2 INT) for the Pumas. The Bears allowed 600 yards total offense - 380 of those yards to Uhlorn by himself - and haven't really recovered since as the playoffs approach. Perry, meanwhile, has a shot to make a nice run in Division II.
Honorable mention: Desert Mountain def. Pinnacle; Red Mountain def. Desert Ridge; Gilbert def. Mesquite; Ironwood Ridge def. Marcos de Niza; Mesquite def. Red Mountain;
Most impactful injury: Eric Kump, Higley
Higley was 4-1 before injury (Kump's shattered knee ligaments) was added to the Sept. 30 insult of losing 49-22 to neighboring Williams Field. Kump's play at quarterback had the Knights licking their chops toward a playoff berth, and then some. But when he was tackled on a throw and lost for the season, the Knights had to scramble to re-invent their offense. Jacob Gonzales has played well in stretches, but Kump's loss and a couple other injuries has left Higley in a lurch. Now 1-2 in October, with its win against woeful Combs, the Knights have to beat Arcadia for a shot at postseason play. Eddy Zubey began his first season at his new school on fire, but now it's on the verge of going up in flames.
Honorable mention: Jordan Leal (Mountain Pointe)
Best individual performance: Joey Counts, Desert Ridge
Whether he set a new big-school record for rushing yards in a game or not doesn't matter (he ran for either 403, 409 or 411 yards depending on whom you choose to believe); neither does it matter that he did this against Phoenix North Canyon, nowhere near the worst defensive team in Division I this season. The most impressive aspect of this being he was done midway through the third quarter.
Honorable mention: Aidan Wright (Scottsdale Prep): 440 yards passing, eight TD, 0 INT vs. Rancho Solano; Marcus Brantley (Red Mountain): 95 yards rushing, 2 TD, 19 yards receiving, interception, fumble return for TD vs. Skyline; D.J. Foster (Saguaro): 19 carries, 272 yards, 5 TD vs. Thunderbird; Josh Uhlorn (Perry): 17-of-22 for 252 yards passing, 5 TD, 22 carries, 135 yards, TD rushing; 2 INT vs. Basha; Alex Howard (Williams Field): 27 carries, 312 yards, 4 TD vs. Poston Butte.
"There are a couple teams I would love to see if we got in. A couple teams I would LOVE to see. I think that would open some eyes in the (AIA) offices about just how bone-headed the system is. It's ridiculous. You can't do this. It's not fair to the kids, and it's not fair to a certain group of schools. It's just not right." - Mesquite coach Matt Gracey, on the new schedule and automatic playoff berths.
Honorable mention: "We were spraying vomit everywhere. I don't know why I gave them Chipotle." - Saguaro coach John Sanders, recalling last year's pregame meal and side effects during a 42-41 loss to Glendale Cactus.
"We went from 40 percent (of schools) pleased to about 95 percent. We had very, very few people that were upset. I can probably count on one hand out of 121 schools how many (negative reactions) we received." -Andy Adrian, the assistant director of the New Mexico Activities Association, about the state's use of a selection committee to determine playoff teams/seedings.