Even in the midst of a state semifinal week of preparation, with a trip to the championship game on the line, it was difficult for Desert Ridge not to wonder “what if.”
It’s been a battle of attrition as much as it will be a battle of season’s survival this week when the No. 2-seeded Jaguars and No. 3 Hamilton meet yet again.
What’s happened since Hamilton’s 34-14 win over Desert Ridge in mid-September? The Huskies have improved and managed to stay relatively healthy during this 10-game winning streak.
Desert Ridge lost its best lineman (Josh Scow) to knee surgery, lost its starting running back (JJ Husar) to a torn ACL in Week 8 and last week lost quarterback Tarek Morrison to a torn ACL in its quarterfinal win against Avondale Westview.
That’s 2,400 rushing yards and 44 total touchdowns lost.
“If those guys were still here, we’re better built to beat them than just about anybody,” Hathcock said.
But they won’t be in uniform, and nobody — least of all Hamilton — is going to cry for Desert Ridge, nor are the Jaguars going to win the game with sympathy.
It means Nathaniel Rodriguez will see more snaps on offense in addition to his linebacker/safety play on defense, where he excels. It also means Taren Morrison will see more time behind backup quarterback Brendon Smith. Smith played JV all of last season and has completed 12 of 21 pass attempts for 260 yards, a touchdown and an interception this season.
“A 4-yard play is a good play and we have to get 4-yard plays,” Hathcock said. “We’re going to play more Midwestern football.”
Even in good health it would have been a tough proposition. While Desert Ridge had injuries both up front and in the secondary at the time, and with whom Hathcock called “maybe the two best linebackers in Arizona” in Santana Sterling and Luke Parrish, Hamilton shut down Husar and Tarek Morrison in the September meeting.
Hamilton found success running the ball and a couple deep passes for scores.
In fact, it has Hamilton a bit weary as to what the Huskies will have to contend with, noting Hathcock and his staff’s ability to scheme and make adjustments on the fly.
Remember when Desert Ridge constructed a new offense in the middle of the 2010 season, went from a high-flying passing team to high-speed running team, and stayed with Hamilton until the end in the championship game? Hamilton does.
“They have a solid offensive line and one thing about D-Ridge is they’re prepared,” Hamilton defensive coordinator Lane Reynolds said. “Whether injuries or not we have to come out at full speed.”
The Jaguars’ overcame the injuries and penalties to beat a solid Westview team last week, using its defense and offensive line as catalysts to play another week.
The same scene will need to unfold this week, and then some.
“Anytime you get in the playoffs it’s a brand new season and everyone comes in with the dire mentality,” Reynolds said. “You play with nothing to lose. We beat them in the regular season, but it means nothing to us in the playoffs. We learned that the hard way last year and (darned) if we’re going to make that mistake twice.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.