Patrick Joseph felt he left his best words for this last game, even if the Hamilton senior offensive lineman’s pregame speech was “spur of the moment.”
The Huskies didn’t need any motivational lectures or tactics, not after what happened at University of Phoenix Stadium a year ago, not after Mountain Pointe pulled out a win to begin the season and not with a state championship at stake.
“I said, ‘If you have to leave an arm, leave an arm. If you have to leave a leg, leave a leg. Leave behind whatever you have to leave behind to win this game,’” Joseph said.
His Huskies teammates obviously took heed.
Hamilton of 2012 did exactly what happened to the Huskies in the 2011 Division I state championship game. They took the opening kickoff to midfield, scored a touchdown and set the stage for a dominant first half of power running and defense; more than enough to win, 31-16, on Saturday afternoon and send the gold back back to Hamilton for a seventh time in school history and a fifth time in the Steve Belles’ seven-year coaching tenure.
Those five state championships tie Jesse Parker for the most by a coach at a “big school” (based on enrollment) in Arizona high school football history.
The Huskies were here a year ago when Desert Vista took the opening kickoff to midfield and scored on the first series which set the tone for Hamilton being blown out of the building.
“This time if we were going to lose, we were going to do it with what we do best,” Hamilton offensive coordinator Deke Schutes said.
So the Huskies did. In a nutshell, the Huskies (12-2) ran for 226 yards against a stingy Mountain Pointe defense (125 of those and a touchdown came from Kevin Walters), held Mountain Pointe to two offensive plays in the first quarter, blocked a field goal, forced three turnovers in the first half and returned an interception for a touchdown early in the third quarter courtesy of Levi Sterling in the third quarter.
“I read (Mountain Pointe quarterback Antonio Hinojosa’s) eyes and it came right to me,” Sterling said. “All I had to do was catch and run.”
Hamilton’s offense did the same. Tyler Eggers and Chad Nelson each caught touchdown passes from A.J. Thigpen while the Huskies ran the ball at Mountain Pointe defense with the hopes of wearing down the Pride’s big and talented front line, one which has most kids playing both ways.
“We had something to prove to everyone about our offense, last year’s ending, the past couple years, and I think we proved it," Joseph said. "We think we came out here and showed we’re the best offensive line in the state.”
Meanwhile, turnovers and a lack of opportunities early derailed Mountain Pointe’s 1-2 punch of Thomas Warren and Garette Craig (combined 17 carries for 57 yards), while Hamilton’s Cole Luke mostly made Mountain Pointe’s Jalen Brown a non-factor (2 receptions for 14 yards).
By the time Hinojosa threw two touchdown passes – one on a brilliant one-handed catch while falling down by Emmanuel Butler and a 62-yarder to Craig in the fourth quarter – it was too late for the Pride.
“We came out flat and fell behind by a lot early and it’s hard to come back like that,” Pride defensive lineman Kenny Lacy said.
The same could have been said about Hamilton’s season after a 0-2 August. In hindsight and with a state championship in their possession, two Huskies players and coaches independently labeled this season’s start as “a blessing in disguise.”
Schutes, for one, felt the team’s best week of practice came this week. He also spoke about undefeated Hamilton teams which won state titles, but that nobody would forget a team which won a state championship after it began with consecutive losses for the first time in school history.
It grounded some of the kids, forced coaches to re-evaluate and tinker with their strategies and taught an inexperienced offense what it would take to return to Thanksgiving weekend’s big stage, let alone win on it.
Based on the celebratory piles before and after receiving the championship trophy, lessons learned.
“I wouldn’t do anything different to get those first two games back,” Joseph said. “That’s what got us here.”
Hamilton 31, Mountain Pointe 16
Ham 7 10 7 7 -- 31
MP 0 0 9 7 -- 16
First downs: Ham 15, MP 10
Rushing: Ham 50-226, MP 25-76
Passing: Ham 5-8-42-1, MP 4-14-3
Fumbles: Ham 2-2, MP 2-1
Penalties: Ham 6-46, MP 8-47
Ham - Nelson 3 pass from Thigpen (Wichman kick)
Ham - Wichman 17 FG
Ham - Eggers 9 pass from Thigpen (Wichman kick)
Ham - Sterling 32 INT return (Wichman kick)
MP - Butler 13 pass from Hinojosa (pass failed)
MP - Abercrombie 34 FG
MP - Craig 62 pass from Hinojosa (Sheehan kick)
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.