Desert Ridge vs. Desert Vista: Two teams who took vastly different, but equally-interesting roads to get here should make this the best of the semifinal matchups. Desert Ridge has been lethal offensively with Jordan Becerra filling in at quarterback running with Joey Counts. Parker Rasmussen’s return should help the passing game in spots, but a key will be whether he can help convert passing situations into first downs with a month of rust to work out. Desert Vista’s defense has risen to the task a few times before, but Desert Ridge is big up front and now has too many options at its disposal offensively. Desert Vista can put up points on its own, but it’ll be hard to keep up with the Jaguars. They’ll keep it close, but the Thunder’s wonderful resurrection of 2010 will come to a close.
Prediction: Desert Ridge 31, Desert Vista 24
Hamilton vs. Mountain Pointe: It hasn’t been pretty, but Mountain Pointe has gotten the job done in the postseason. This team’s offense isn’t as talented as last year’s, but good coaching and a solid defense has been enough in the first two rounds. However, Hamilton is on a different level. The Huskies are peaking perfectly and don’t seem to have any real issues on either side of the ball. Throughout the season, Hamilton’s biggest obstacle was itself at times, but once the playoffs got close, the team kicked it into a higher gear. The state title feels like a formality, as the Huskies should pounce on Mountain Pointe early and cruise to the win.
Prediction: Hamilton 38, Mountain Pointe 7
-- Kyle Odegard
Chaparral vs. Westview: The monster truck rolls on at Chaparral, where the rest of the world has already anointed the Firebirds as champions again. Obviously, that’s far from the case inside the school walls, and it’s duly noted Westview could be the fastest team Chaparral has seen this year, especially with the Knights’ three-headed backfield of Jordan Champion, Seivion Morris and Shayne Miller. It’s a challenge, but there’s no reason to think a predominantly one-dimensional offense can succeed against what’s probably the best defense in the state. Chaparral’s offense is loaded with balance and big-play ability. The truck is speeding downhill and Westview feels like just the next team in the way.
Prediction: Chaparral 35, Westview 14
Williams Field vs. Thunderbird: Williams Field’s fast rise to this pinnacle has been well-chronicled, but how did No. 13 Thunderbird get here? With a couple timely turnovers by Higley (4A-II quarterfinal) and Goodyear Desert Edge (semifinal) and a few game-breaking defensive stands at crucial times. So far Thunderbird has a 1-point win and a double-overtime win in these playoffs, so if this gets into a close game, don’t expect Thunderbird to fold. That said, Williams Field is on a roll offensively after putting up 49 points against a very good Notre Dame defense last week, and Thunderbird hasn’t faced a two-dimensional offense like this in six weeks. Connor Hustead (1,453 yards rushing, 18 TD this season) and Vinnie Marin (13-of-21 passing, 175 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT last week) made the difference in the semifinals, but Williams Field has enough athletes on both sides to at least neutralize those two long enough to help the offense grab a two-possession lead. Not even Hamilton won the big trophy this quickly into its varsity football existence.
Prediction: Williams Field 31, Thunderbird 17
Saguaro vs. Canyon del Oro: In the first matchup between these teams, Canyon del Oro dominated for the first three quarters, and would have cruised to the victory had running back Ka’Deem Carey not dropped the ball one yard before scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter. In that regard, the outcome should have been larger than an eight-point Canyon del Oro victory. Since then, though, Saguaro has gotten much healthier and the defense has started to play better. Also, Carey has been battling a hamstring injury and the Dorados needed a late rally against Cienega last week to make it this far. If Carey is healthy, Saguaro may be able to slow Canyon del Oro, but not stop them. On the flip side, D.J. Foster and Teddy Ruben are tough to stop in their own right, and bruising running back Danny Clark gives the Sabercats a more physical presence in the backfield. Canyon del Oro held Saguaro to a season-low 25 points in the first game between these teams, and has won 27 straight games. This is the matchup everyone wanted to see, and it should be a good one.
Prediction: Saguaro 35, Canyon del Oro 31
-- Kyle Odegard