Three times the bridesmaid. Never the bride. That could all change Saturday when second-seeded Brophy squares off against two-time defending champion Hamilton for the 5A Division I football title at Sun Devil Stadium.
But in stopping the Huskies’ pursuit of a three-peat, while also seeking the first title in the program’s 78-year history, the Broncos must end a streak of their own:
Three title game appearances, three times the 5A state runner-up.
"The times we have made it happen to be when we have to face an extremely good team," said former Brophy coach Tim Sanford, who led the Broncos to second-place finishes in 1996 and 1998.
First, it was Phoenix Central in 1972, whose 21-0 win over the Broncos in the title game gave the Bobcats their second state title — and second 13-0 season — in a four-year span.
The Broncos didn’t reach a title game again until 1996, and that attempt didn’t prove any more fruitful as Brophy battled a Mountain View team about to embark on a run of three titles in four seasons.
"Mountain View in ’96 was just starting on their 40-game winning streak," Sanford said.
Brophy lost, 17-3.
The most recent — and likely best — chance Brophy had at finishing on top came just two years later, when the Broncos faced Desert Vista.
Brophy was coming off a draining 10-3 win over Mountain View in the 5A semifinals — the Broncos halted the Toros’ big-class record 40-game winning streak with the victory.
Desert Vista was led by current Chicago Bears wide receiver Bobby Wade, the 1998 state player of the year as a running back.
Some say Wade singlehandedly propelled the Thunder to victory in that game, scoring the final touchdown with less than three minutes to go to seal a 38-31 win over the Broncos.
"It was a classic battle," said Sanford, now the defensive line coach at Paradise Valley. "Bobby Wade was just phenomenal that year.
"It seemed like the team who had the ball last with a little time on the clock was going to win," he added. "Maybe if we had three more minutes we might have been able to pull that game out."
In each championship opportunity, the Broncos came in with at least two losses, only to face an unbeaten team for the title.
"It might be (bad) luck, when you do run into a hot team like that," said longtime Brophy athletic director John Chambers of the Broncos’ habit of playing the state’s alltime best teams. "We’ve been right there."
That won’t change this time, as Hamilton enters with an unblemished mark of 13-0 and a 39-2 record spanning the past three seasons.
But current Brophy coach Scooter Molander said he doesn’t think luck plays a role.
"Whoever you face in a championship game is going to be a tremendous opponent," Molander said.
While Sanford thinks the Broncos have the tools to secure that elusive championship trophy — Brophy comes in with just one loss, a onepoint defeat to statesemifinalist Westwood, and a shot at the school’s singleseason record for victories, should the Broncos reach No. 13 with a win Saturday — he said Hamilton has the immediate edge mentally because they’ve been there before.
Sanford likened the Broncos’ troubles in the state title game to the trouble they used to have with rival St. Mary’s, which had a 16-game winning streak over Brophy from 1981-1996.
"It was a mental thing. We just needed to get over that hump of beating (St. Mary’s) once, then it got easier," Sanford said, referencing the Broncos’ back-to-back wins over the Knights in 1996-1997.
Sanford’s Paradise Valley squad is one of four teams to face both Hamilton and Brophy this season, falling 41-0 and 48-0, respectively. Sanford, who spent 18 seasons as the Broncos’ head coach before leaving in 2002, said he thinks this Brophy team can finally do the deed.
"It’s probably the best defense that I’ve seen in all the years I’ve coached around here," Sanford said of the Broncos. "I’d have to say that of all the teams to face Hamilton, Brophy might have the best chance, because of that solid defense."
Molander, in his first season as head coach at Brophy, said second place is no longer an option for a program that has turned itself into a consistent state power.
"Our kids have had the state championship goal for a long time and we’ve worked hard toward that," Molander said. "I think the thing is that while we’re happy just to be at ASU, we’re not completely satisfied. We want to win it."